WWU Students Celida Moran and Samara Almonte Awarded Prestigious Doris Duke Fellowships

Western Washington University students Celida Moran (San Francisco, California/Environmental Science) and Samara Almonte (Bothell/Urban Planning) have been awarded prestigious two-year Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program fellowships.

Moran is completing her fellowship at the University of Washington, while Almonte is completing hers at the University of Michigan.

The goal of DDCSP is to serve students from groups traditionally underrepresented in conservation, across disciplines, who can contribute to diversifying, redefining, and strengthening efforts to protect land, wildlife and water. Five universities host DDCSP summer programs across the country: the University of Washington, UC Santa Cruz, University of Florida, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Michigan.

The pair has completed the first summer of work for their fellowships, and will be heading back to their respective campuses this summer to finish. With only 100 new students entering the program each year, competition for the spots is very competitive, but Almonte said the experience has been transformative.

“It’s been so amazing,” she said. “The head of the University of Michigan’s DDCSP program, Dorceta Taylor, came to Western to speak last year, and when I met her and we talked, she encouraged me to apply, and it worked out. Nini (WWU Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Nini Hayes) was also instrumental in pushing me to apply and supporting my application as well.”

Moran said she heard about the program and was encouraged to apply by one of her faculty mentors, Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences Marco Hatch.

“I knew that the DDCSP would be an incredible opportunity if I got accepted, and it really has been,” she said.

Hatch said he knew the competition for spots was tight, but that was for a reason.

“It’s simply one of the best undergraduate training programs in the country,” he said.

Last summer, Moran travelled across the state with her cohort to do research work at sites from Puget Sound to the Olympics to Winthrop to Mount St. Helens and the Yakima Valley.

“It was such good exposure to the social aspects of environmental science. I learned so much,” she said.

And rather than focus her path moving forward from college, Moran said she feels the program has allowed her the freedom to continue to discover the things about environmental science that fuel her interests as she finishes school and decides what is next.

“I just realized through this experience that there is no straight path to follow. I don’t have to have all the answers, or have it all figured out yet,” she said. “And that is reassuring.”

Next summer at UW, Moran said she will spend the majority of her time on a single internship; she will get to choose from a list of potential projects this winter but hopes to find work that combines her interests in field ecology with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Almonte went farther afield for her summer than Moran did, but said her eight weeks in Michigan were very rewarding.

“Most of the projects we worked on were based around water issues in some way; the Great Lakes and the water problems in Flint, for example. And I spent a lot of time working on a professor’s research on organic farming. It was a ton of hands-on, practical research work,” she said.

Almonte would like to spend most of next summer working on STEM outreach with children in Flint, and for both she and Moran, environmental justice issues form a core of the passion they hold for the work and the projects that lie ahead of them in the future. Almonte, who will graduate in June, said she has applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Peru after she finishes her Duke fellowship; she will hear back about her application this spring.

Both Moran and Almonte said the biggest takeaway from their first summer in the program was how incredibly close they have become with the other members of their cohorts.

“It’s hard to put into words how powerful it is to be with 19 other people who have the same kinds of life experiences that you do, and who can relate instantly to any story you can tell, including those of navigating the conservation field as a person of color,” Moran said. “You just feel so validated.”

Both said they couldn’t have done the fellowship without the generous stipends that come with it; not only did it pay for their summers but Moran said she used it to pay for much of her WWU expenses this year as well.

“That financial support is so, so great,” she said.

Both also echoed a similar thought they wanted to send out to current Western students: apply to the program.

“It will change your life,” said Almonte.

Applications to the program will be accepted until Feb. 8; find out more at http://uwconservationscholars.org/program/apply/.