Protecting Marine Mammals and the Oceans: The Environment America Fellowship

Mar 04, 2020
Micheala Morris (center), a current Oceans fellow, recently hosted an art show on right whales at Tandem Coffee in Portland, ME.

Environment America’s mission is to transform our ideas and imaginations into change that makes our world a greener and healthier place. The organization builds support for clean, renewable energy, campaigns against pollution and climate change, and protects wildlife and wild places. They do what it takes to turn public opinion and political momentum toward a greener, healthier world. 

The Environment America Fellowship plays an integral role in this process. Fellows build powerful coalitions, learn how to earn attention from traditional and social media, lobby elected officials, research and write reports, and identify donors. Each summer, fellows run a grassroots campaign office, hiring and managing canvassers, raising money, and winning key campaigns. The target annual compensation for this position is $28,000-$30,000. Environment America offers a competitive benefits package.

We talked to Micheala Morris, a current Oceans Fellow with Environment America, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

Applications for the Environment America Fellowship are now open! Learn more and apply now for positions in 2020.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Environment America Fellowship? 

I grew up on the seacoast of New Hampshire, and ever since I was little, my family has spent our summers fishing, surfing, swimming, and sailing at the beach. I learned how to push myself hard during runs in the soft sand. In high school and college, as a lifeguard, I learned the currents of the ocean, where piping plovers built their nests, and how to guess the time from the angle of the sun. My time spent on the beach shaped my identity. I forged close bonds with my family, learned confidence in myself, and developed a deep appreciation for the ocean and everything that swims in it. 

I decided to pursue work in the environmental field the summer before my senior year of college. That summer, I worked as a lifeguard, and we had dozens of seals stranded onshore. I talked to a member of the Marine Mammal Rescue Patrol, and she explained that the seals were dying likely because of global warming. Climate change made the water warmer and, in turn, hospitable to new types of bacteria. New England seals hadn’t developed immunity to them. With graduation looming in nine months, thoughts of my post-college plans constantly simmered in my mind. After my conversation with the Marine Mammal Rescue Patrol, it clicked: I could dive into work in the environmental sector and protect the ocean, seals, and beach.

I was attracted to the fellowship because it offered the opportunity to build foundational knowledge about policy and develop a habit of political engagement. My personal experiences shaped my passion for conservation, but I had little experience in politics or knowledge of the government. I wanted to understand the tools we have to protect our oceans, and the fellowship was an opportunity to learn about the tools and begin to use them.

2. What campaigns did you work on as an Environment America Fellow? 

I’m an Oceans Fellow on the Environment America Conservation team, and my two main campaigns are Wildlife Over Waste (working to reduce plastic pollution) and Save Right Whales. 

In October, I got to fly to Washington D.C. to lobby on the SAVE Right Whales Act. While in DC, I went to a networking event and heard Senator Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Speaker, talk about the importance of protecting wildlife and wild places. I also developed a proposal for a series of art shows to educate the public and build awareness of the right whale crisis. We hosted our first one in Portland, ME last week — and it was a huge success! Over 40 people came, including a city councilor, and we got media coverage on News Center Maine.

I spend the other half of my time working on Wildlife Over Waste. I’ve testified at the Massachusetts State House in front of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee to urge them to give a favorable recommendation to an updated bottle bill. In late January, I planned a press briefing for the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (“BFFPA”). The BFFPA is groundbreaking federal legislation that tackles our plastic pollution crisis. I worked closely with the offices of Senator Udall and Representative Lowenthal to plan the press briefing. We had over 60 participants on the call, and several news outlets like the New York Times, Politico, and The Hill published articles using quotes from speakers on the press briefing that I put together.

Micheala (second from left) at a networking event in DC

3. What was your favorite part of your fellowship experience? 

I think my two favorite parts of the fellowship are the variety in my everyday work and the sense of fulfillment I get by working to protect marine mammals and the oceans.

In the last ten days, I traveled to Portland, Maine to host an art show featuring artwork inspired by right whales. I did a Skype interview with sixth graders in Long Island working on a project to reduce plastic pollution in their community. I designed a set of postcards to mail to elected officials, urging strong protections for right whales. And, in two weeks, I get to go to Washington DC to lobby congressmen to sign onto the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. The fellowship is designed to give fellows a vast range of experience in advocacy — from event-planning to writing testimony, to lobbying elected officials. This means that each day looks a little bit different, which keeps me engaged and interested in the work.

Perhaps my favorite part of the fellowship, though, is the sense of meaning I get out of this work. The fellowship combines my inherent intellectual curiosity about the ocean and the life within it with the exploration of real-world solutions to problems. It’s my job to do research on the right whales, to learn about their behaviors, and then find ways to communicate why we must save these amazing animals. Moreover, this work aligns with my values. I care about protecting our world for future generations, and I feel lucky that I get to work each day and feel that I am making a difference. 

4. How has the fellowship experience influenced your current work? 

While the fellowship has given me a number of hard skills — like pitching media, public speaking, and writing for advocacy — most importantly, it has given me confidence in myself and my ability to help build a movement. In today’s climate — both figuratively and literally — it’s easy to feel powerless. Australia is burning. Sea levels are rising. Bees are dying. But my experience as an Environment America Fellow has opened my eyes to the tools we have to effect positive change, highlighted the ways that I can help the movement, and shown me how to activate and engage others. 

5. What tips would you give others applying to the Environment America Fellowship? 

The best advice I can give to applicants is to tell a really good story about your background and why you think you’d be a good fit for the fellowship. Your story will be what makes your application unique. Take your time on the short answer questions to craft your narrative, then continue to explain your story and what makes you unique during your interview process. 

Micheala Morris is an Oceans Fellow with Environment America. She recently graduated from Tufts University, where she was an English major. In college, she participated in the track, cross country, and sailing teams. In her free time, she loves reading, running, and spending time with her friends and family.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Environment America Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

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