08:00 AM

Pilot Program Raises Awareness for Sustainability, Climate

Cal State San Marcos’ initial Planet Mentorship Pilot Program  was a success, creating opportunities for students with diverse backgrounds to fight against climate issues. The program is a unique merging of targeted student mentorship, socially engaged sustainability and climate education, and data visualization.

The Office of Inclusive Excellence and the Sustainability Program have worked together since 2015 to provide additional pathways for students while working with campus partners to connect diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with sustainability-related and environmental issues.

The project came to fruition through the collaboration of Ariel Stevenson of the Office of Inclusive Excellence, Juliana Goodlaw-Morris from the Sustainability Program and Lucy HG Solomon, a faculty fellow of Center ARTES, to create a unique program that joins mentorship, creative artmaking, sustainability and climate justice. The program’s goal is to empower students to create meaningful art about the issues they care about, and in the process empower participating students to become changemakers for the planet. The articulate, creative visions expressed by participating students reveal the transformative potential of the program.

“This collaborative project speaks to our outstanding and dedicated students at CSUSM,” said Stevenson, the deputy diversity officer in the Office of Inclusive Excellence. 

“The mentorship program is one example of how CSUSM practices inclusive sustainability on our campus. Faculty and staff partners continue to help students thrive under the CSUSM inclusive sustainability umbrella.”

Stevenson noted that there was an initial donor for the program inspired by the merging of the campus’ inclusive sustainability efforts with the arts, and the program has learned that a new funder will be providing support for this academic year.

The program is a paid opportunity for students to be mentored alongside faculty and staff, including  Goodlaw-Morris,  Solomon,  Stevenson and faculty members from across campus, such as environmental studies professors Gabriel Valle and Shannon Swanson. This year, the program will seek outside mentors and also look to those who completed the program to act as peer mentors.

“Through our inclusive sustainability program and now our Planet Mentorship program, our students have benefited from creating an environmental justice internship, won competitive research awards, partnered with students to publish, received full scholarships, and participated in this paid mentorship program,” Stevenson said.

Students combine art and data to illuminate how climate change and environmental justice issues impact marginalized communities. The program also allows students to explore pathways for their futures and learn useful skills, such as communicating complex themes and ideas, project development through collaboration and creative problem-solving.

“We thought about the kind of change we wanted to grow and where to focus our joint mentorship,” Solomon said. “The program engages students of color in the pursuit of creative works around climate and social justice. Data visualization involves research into layered problem sets, and the creative aspect of the program – the problem identifying, distilling and conveying through dynamic artworks – empowers students to become researchers/artists and elevates their voices in the discussion around climate.”

Last month, Planet Mentorship held an event called “Stories for the Planet,” which showcased students' art. The goal of the exhibition was to show what future changemakers are doing to help bring climate issues to light. 

“CSUSM is positioning itself as a sustainability and climate justice leader in the region,” Goodlaw-Morris said. “In order to successfully prepare our students for future opportunities, we need to allow them to be intersectional in their thinking and creative activities. This program has engaged students from across disciplines to connect their future careers and goals with the needs of our planet. Our inaugural students showcased amazing pieces of artwork connecting social justice, sustainability and climate change.” 

Recent biochemistry graduate Mellie Nitunga was initially interested in the program because it sounded like an opportunity for her to start a career in saving the planet. 

“I also wanted to learn more about how climate change can affect us and the steps necessary to help stop climate change,” Nitunga wrote on the program website. “The program has given me opportunities to have mentors, which can help further my goal and education."

David Ramos – an environmental studies and art, media and design student – joined the program because he wanted to gain skills that he could utilize outside of classwork. 

“I want to be the person who stands up to the challenge and aims to help people who are less fortunate and unfairly represented in the community,” Ramos wrote. “Through this internship, I can bring light to these issues in a way that feels fulfilling to my overall career. I want to stand up for the health of my community and the environment in an ever-changing world."

The first collection of planet changemakers art is on display at the Data Stacks on the fourth floor of Kellogg Library. Visit any time during library hours to see the students’ artistic meditations on climate and justice.

Thanks to the generous support of the Wells Fargo Foundation, the 2023-24 cohort of Planet Mentorship will launch this month. The Wells Fargo Foundation’s support also was instrumental in garnering additional donor support, doubling this year’s student cohort. This effort is instrumental in building a more inclusive and sustainable future for all.

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314