UCSD Sustainability Ambassadors

I was given the chance to talk to Tyler Valdes.

How did you become interested in sustainability?

Like many folks, it really all began for me back in high school when I took AP Environmental Sciences and had a wonderful teacher who I also had the opportunity to travel with to the Gal√°pagos Islands in Ecuador. That trip changed my life and sparked my interest in sustainability as I got to witness and immerse myself into rare and fragile ecosystems. Since then, nearly all of my academic, professional, and extracurricular experiences have been driven by my passion for sustainability, climate action, and environmental justice.

Were you involved with any sustainability organizations on campus while at UCSD and if so, could you talk about your involvement?  

Before coming to campus, I was quite involved with sustainability organizations at another UC campus. During my undergraduate studies at UC Irvine, I was keen on becoming involved with the vibrant sustainability community so I participated in a range of organizations and programs including: the Sustainability Resource Center, The Green Initiative Fund, Global Environmental Brigades, Costa Rica Program: Global Sustainability and Cultural Immersion, Campus as a Living Lab, Student Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Catalina Environmental Leadership Program, and Earth System Science Club. I then ended my undergraduate experience by spending a semester abroad in New Zealand at Lincoln University in its sustainability program where I studied Environmental Policy and Analysis and won an award for a sustainability design project with my friends. After graduating, I worked with various nonprofits in the field of outdoor education and community engagement where I had the opportunity to foster environmental stewardship in K-6 students and canvass for more street trees in disadvantaged communities. I also served as the Program Coordinator for the UC Irvine Sustainability Resource Center where I planned, implemented, and assessed collaborative programming and supervised innovative student projects that empowered a campus culture of sustainability.

Currently, I am a graduate student in the Climate Science and Policy program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. It is a one-year, intensive professional program so I have not been on campus for very long and will be leaving already by this summer! Luckily, I am participating in the sustainability community at UC San Diego by serving at the Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Engagement Fellow where I oversee the UC San Diego Sustainability Ambassadors program. The Sustainability Ambassador program aims to promote climate action and raise awareness of UC’s carbon neutrality goals through peer education and programming with a focus on energy solutions. In collaboration with the Inter-Sustainability Council, I also co-direct UC San Diego’s 5th Annual Green Talks which has gone virtual this year! Green Talks is a TED-styled event that educates and engages the campus community on various local sustainability issues and inspires action toward addressing the climate crisis.  

Could you talk about your projects with the Sustainability Ambassador Program? What were some of the most valuable things you gained/learned from those experiences? 

The Sustainability Ambassadors hosted a series of Lunch and Learns as well as presentations and workshops in winter quarter where we discussed climate change, UC’s carbon neutrality goals and progress, and energy conserving actions. Currently, our team is planning for Green Talks which will include an amazing lineup of recorded presentations from sustainability professionals which students will be able to view online and submit questions that will be answered during a live Q&A event. Also, we are developing an official website and online training that will share resources for those keen on learning more about climate change, UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative, and actions they can take to help reduce their carbon footprint. The most valuable lesson that I have gained from this year with the Sustainability Ambassador program is that collaboration is key in education and engagement efforts as I have found that it always takes a team of talented and passionate individuals with unique strengths to create a successful project or event.

Why are sustainably minded projects important to you?

Projects that take sustainability into consideration are very important to me because we must be mindful of our resource consumption and consider the impacts of our projects in order to effectively sustain our economy, the environment, and overall society. I believe sustainability encourages people to use systems thinking when planning or managing a project. Projects founded on the principles of sustainability are key in creating an inclusive world centered on equity, resilience, and justice.

How have you been adapting to COVID-19?

While I much rather prefer to work in a collaborative setting, I have adapted well to working and studying from home. I take breaks to go for walks and ride my bike while practicing social distancing. I definitely enjoy watching shows and movies on Netflix and reading before bed. Right now, I am finishing The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – an excellent and quick read for anyone interested in personal development. Also, I have been enjoying plenty of Zoom happy hours and online calls with family and friends. I believe that practicing self-care and just doing the best you can on any given day is how we can keep moving forward during these challenging times.

What are your career goals and hope for the future?  

As a budding sustainability professional, I hope to establish and grow a career where I can build community resilience to climate change through education, engagement, and advocacy. Currently, my strongest career interests are centered on sustainability program management, climate science communications, and environmental justice. By expanding my understanding of the science-policy nexus through my graduate studies, I aspire to support the implementation of effective science-based climate solutions within higher education institutions, nonprofits, or local government in San Diego County.

I hope that moving forward, our communities can continue to engage in the climate conversation beyond Earth Day events and actively show up, speak up, vote, and take action on climate. I hope that the climate justice movement can continue to evolve so it centers and celebrates more youth activists including Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders. In recovering from this pandemic, I hope that more people will understand the interconnectedness and interdependence of our economies, ecosystems, and social structures. I hope we shift away from capitalism and colonial hierarchies that perpetuate socioeconomic inequities. I hope for a world where there is enough for everyone, forever. 

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