Environmental and Community Leaders Fellowship

The Environmental and Community Leaders Fellowship empowers young adults from diverse urban backgrounds to create equitable access to outdoor opportunities in their communities. Fellows develop self-awareness, civic leadership skills, and a personal connection to nature during programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, apply their skills to planning and leading community events in urban green spaces, and explore related careers and opportunities to be change-makers through mentorship from regional community leaders.

Each year 20 rising high school juniors from Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, will be selected during a teacher nomination and application process. Until they graduate high school, fellows will participate in a personalized program that inspires each student to find their connection to nature and become community leaders.

The program then shifts to encourage students to expand their environmental literacy by exploring, investigating and problem solving in the urban environment. This looks like monthly meetings in the urban green spaces of Knoxville, group exploration days within the city, and student-led environmental stewardship and education events for their communities. The focus for local environmental problem solving will be the issue of micro plastics in the Tennessee River watershed, recently highlighted in a 2018 study. The study found that the Tennessee River is significantly more polluted with micro plastics than more crowded watersheds such as the Rhine River, and is actually comparable to China’s Yangtze River. The fellows will learn about this issue while planning direct action to address this issue at a community scale.