HBCU-Berkeley Environmental Scholars for Change

Program Overview

Since 2021, the HBCU-Berkeley Environmental Scholars for Change Program has brought together students and faculty from the University of California-Berkeley, Spelman College, and Tuskegee University interested in research in a wide range of intersecting environmental fields, such as agri-food systems, biodiversity, climate, and water, all with a throughline of justice. Over the two-month program, visiting scholars conduct research in one or more of these areas with faculty, students, and staff in Berkeley’s interdisciplinary Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM). The program also helps facilitate two-way learning while fostering preparedness and belonging for Spelman and Tuskegee students interested in graduate school at UC Berkeley. Spelman and Tuskegee faculty work with applicants and the Berkeley program coordinators to match student interests with faculty research projects in ESPM. In addition to performing research with individual faculty and their labs, scholars participate in weekly programming focused on developing a mentorship circle, community-building, preparing for graduate school, and reflecting on research experiences. 

Participating scholars will receive a $5,000 stipend, housing, and round trip travel to UC Berkeley. 

The summer 2024 program runs June 1 – July 31, with travel on May 31. Apply to participate in the program by filling out this application by February 1, 2024. One reference letter, resumé, and brief statement of purpose required. Applicants have the option of also submitting a short video. 

Environmental Justice: Agri-Food Systems, Biodiversity, Climate, and Water

Agricultural intensification and food sovereignty, climate change, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are all intersecting crises that humanity must address. These so-called “wicked problems” cannot be solved with linear solutions and instead demand an interdisciplinary perspective and systems thinking. Further, since these crises have inequitable impacts and roots that include settler mindsets of extraction and racialized capitalism, advancing justice must be integral to any solutions. Addressing these intersecting and deeply-rooted challenges requires committed changemakers whose perspectives and experiences reflect those who are most deeply affected. The Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) is a multidisciplinary program that recognizes the urgency of the task at hand, and the enormous opportunities to work toward transformative change. ESPM includes two natural science divisions (Ecosystem Sciences and Organisms & Environment) and a social science division (Society & Environment), fostering collaboration in research, teaching, and PhD training.

Research Projects

Visiting scholars will work with faculty mentors as well as PhD students and/or postdoctoral researchers from their labs. The program contacts at each school work with visiting scholars and faculty mentors to match projects based on mutual interests.

Specific potential faculty projects will be announced by December 2023. Current committed faculty members include: Rodrigo Almeida, Timothy Bowles, Damian Elias, Laureano Gherardi, Meg Mills-Novoa,  Miranda Redmond, and Robert Rhew.

Programming Commitment

With the overarching goal of preparing participants for doctoral education in interdisciplinary environmental sciences and a sense of belonging at UC Berkeley, the fellowship program consists of the following components:

Research Experience with Individual Labs

  • Lab Research Project: Scholars work alongside their faculty mentor and other lab members for ~30 hours per week on an ongoing research project, in which students and faculty co-define a set of research questions that are tractable for a summer project. As two months is too short to conduct a study from start to finish, the goal here is to advance skills in research design itself, as well as technical skills and teamwork. Scholars will develop specific and general research skills related to the projects, such as data analysis software (e.g., R, Python), social science research methods (e.g., interviews, content analysis), etc.
  • Weekly Project Meetings: Faculty and other lab members work with visiting scholars and mentees’ home advisors to support them in ideating their unique contribution to the diverse field of environmental sciences. Weekly meetings will focus on developing strong research questions, identifying project parameters and relevant literature, and thinking through the specific methodological tools necessary to conduct the project. 
  • Research Showcase: At the end of the program scholars present their research in a public symposium together with all participants in the UC Berkeley Inclusive Excellence Summer Research Experience.  

Cohort Skill-Building

Four participants in the 2022 program

2022 program participants Massa Godbold, Marianna Beard, Love Lundy, and Joy Rutledge during a San Francisco outing.

  • Workshops: The program includes an array of graduate school preparedness and environmental science-specific skill-building workshops, such as conducting interdisciplinary research. 
  • Cohort Meetings: Program staff hold weekly 1:1 meetings with each scholar to support them throughout the summer program. The full cohort also has occasional check in opportunities. 

Developing a Community of Belonging

The program provides extensive mentorship activities that foster relationships with Black faculty, staff, and graduate students at Berkeley and connect participants with vibrant Black environmental and cultural spaces in the Bay Area and beyond, including:

  • Social Gatherings: The program hosts a welcome BBQ and social activities with UC Berkeley student groups such as the ESPM Graduate Diversity Council, Black Graduate Engineering and Science Students, Black Students in Public Policy, Berkeley Student Farms, and others. 
  • Informal Lunches with Black Scholars at UC Berkeley: Each week the cohort has lunch with Black faculty, staff, and graduate students in diverse environmental science fields. These gatherings are opportunities for “real talk” about the Berkeley experience and developing a mentorship network.
  • Field Trips: Scholars garner exposure to a range of post-graduate environmental science career tracks in academia and community organizations through field trips to research labs, museums, parks, and environmental and food justice organizations. 

Post Program Mentorship

Beyond their summer in Berkeley, scholars have the opportunity to continue to work with their research mentors, such as presenting at national conferences and co-authoring peer-reviewed publications. Faculty commit to staying engaged with scholars to discuss applications to graduate programs, write letters of recommendation, and/or discuss and provide feedback on undergraduate or masters theses. 

What Program Alums Are Saying

“[Dr. Ray] was super easy to talk to. I feel like I could TRULY talk to her about anything, which is a main reason I will continue a relationship with her—it is rare to find that openness in academia.” 
— Love Lundy (2022)

“The mentorship lunches were absolutely amazing. They were perfect. We created a relationship with those various people…and from there a bond was started. So the fact that they even came to our [research] showcase was beautiful.”
— Christopher Bass (2023)

“The program solidified [Berkeley] being my top choice. The way the program was set up I had the opportunity to not only do the research but to build relationships in the department as well as people at Berkeley. I also feel like what really sealed the deal for me was we had a cookout at Vernard Lewis’ house and showing all the different Black figures in Berkeley and that gave me a sense of home…Once I had that opportunity I was like, ‘I knew I’d never be alone out here.’” 
— Destinee Whitaker (2023)

Program Contacts 

University of California–Berkeley

  • Timothy Bowles, Associate Professor, Agroecology and Sustainable Agricultural Systems (faculty lead): timothy.bowles@berkeley.edu
  • Rosalie Zdzienicka Fanshel, Doctoral Candidate, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (programming lead): rzfanshel@berkeley.edu 

Spelman College

Tuskegee University 


Learn more about the program in this Breakthroughs magazine article

Banner photos, left to right: 1: 2022 participant Massa Godbold measures soil nitrogen concentrations for a project focused on compost and water quality. (Photo by Bowles Lab); 2: 2023 participant Carlos Jackson conducting research (Photo by Mathew Burciaga); 3: Julia Toro, MF ’21 Forestry, discusses plants with program participants and other collaborators during an outing to Planting Justice Nursery (Photo by Julie Gipple); 4: 2023 participant Christopher Bass presents his research (Photo by Mathew Burciaga).