MENTORSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Between Two Sectors – Finding Common Ground in Environmental Justice and Climate Adaptation Work

Mentee Jomar Rodriguez Ventura currently works as an Environmental Justice (EJ) Educator/Climate-Resilience Coordinator with Mycelium Youth Network (MYN). Through this role, he facilitates learning experiences in EJ curricula such as “Climate Justice 101,” “Clean Air is a Right,” and “Water is Life” for youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also serves as a Climate-Resilience Community Coordinator, co-facilitating a Youth Leadership Council pilot program that utilizes Youth Participatory Action-Research with a focus on Nature-based solutions. Jomar is currently in a grad program for MS Sustainable and Resilient Communities through which he hopes to sharpen community resiliency skills and ultimately take on the climate crisis as an opportunity to advance social justice along with mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

Mentor Karen Vu works as a Climate Change Specialist at the California Coastal Commission. Her work focuses on climate policy and analysis, with an emphasis on sea level rise resiliency. Additionally, she is working to better understand the intersections of environmental justice and sea level rise, and how to integrate environmental justice and equity in sea level rise adaptation planning. Prior to this, Karen completed a one-year Sea Grant State Fellowship with the Coastal Commission to gain experience in coastal management and policy planning. She has a Master’s in Environmental Management from the University of San Francisco with a concentration in water management.

Emerging Dialogue:

Karen and Jomar have recently discussed the need for authentic and effective liaisons and improved communication between community residents, community leaders, schools, NGOs, and government agencies. Between Karen’s work in government with a focus on improving climate resilience and Jomar’s work as an educator who is eager to enact community-level climate resilience plans with youth leaders, both have noticed a gap in awareness between local residents/community groups regarding climate resilience projects that government agencies are trying to implement. Together, Jomar and Karen are exploring how to bridge this gap. They discussed how state and local agencies can improve their projects with support from local residents, including through implementing and monitoring projects such as living shorelines for more effective data collection and proper upkeep of such installations.  

Additionally, while they work in different sectors, Karen and Jomar face similar issues in terms of trying to increase equity and diversity in the environmental/adaptation field. Jomar is building a more robust understanding of climate resiliency work that affects communities through policy. They have discussed how ordinances and policies should focus on providing more equitable access to shorelines and beaches. This has helped Jomar better conceptualize how doing work “outside” of a direct community can still have a very direct impact on the communities that he holds at the center of his work. As he pivots out of teaching science in the classroom, Jomar has been exposed to a great deal of organizations that align with his interests with the support of his mentor. Karen’s background in non-profit work and strong environmental justice focus has motivated Jomar to see a future in a space that previously felt unwelcoming.

Fun Facts:

Karen has a great plan for steering clear of zombies when it goes down (I won’t spoil the plan, but I will add that it involves great consideration for quantity and quality of drinking water and buffer space). Also, they share an original interest in Marine Biology before pivoting into the world of Environmental Justice/Climate Justice. In addition to her workload at the Coastal Commission, Karen also contributes to a hiring panel that seeks to promote more equitable hiring processes. 

Jomar has a ton of energy and interests, and is constantly involved in a lot of different projects from his role as a classroom educator to trying to improve the connections of the Mycelium Youth Network with other organizations (and being a student!). He seems to always be striving to improve the work that he’s involved in.

Thanks to both Jomar and Karen for sharing what they’ve learned!