By Lyndsi Lewis
Nicholas School Social Media Specialist

DURHAM, N.C. – Nicholas School students and faculty gathered in Field Auditorium Friday night, February 19, to hear from environmental professionals of color about how they have navigated their careers. The panelists represented areas including Costa Rica, Peru and rural North Carolina.

The “Showcasing Diversity in Environmental Professions” panel – featuring guest speakers Neasha Graves of the UNC Institute for the Environment, Jorge Montezuma of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and Nicholas School alumna Jazmin Varela of The Conservation Fund – allowed for an open discussion among attendees about ways to facilitate a diverse and inclusive workplace.

“We miss opportunities by not being more diverse and casting a broader net within our communities,” Varela shared. “A lot of the ideas we have about who cares about environmental issues and works in this field goes back to the storytellers. There needs to be more diversity there. We need to be more intentional about the stories we are telling.”

From left to right, student moderator Shaina Nanavati, Jazmin Varela, Jorge Montezuma, and Neasha Graves. (Photo by Lyndsi Lewis)


Montezuma and Graves agreed that in addition to diversifying the narrative about what kinds of people work in the field, mentorship was pivotal in the academic success of minority students as many are first-generation higher education professionals. Many fall through the cracks without proper guidance and help in navigating the higher education system.

“We don’t have any hope of accomplishing the mission of making a sustainable world if we don’t include the communities who represent the world,” said Dean Alan Townsend via video message. “We are not where we need to be within our school or in the environmental field. And we need to continue to push for it.”

The event was part of the Rising Tide Initiative and sponsored by the Nicholas School’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Black and Latino Club, Dean’s Office, and Career and Professional Development Office,  with support from Mi Gente, the Duke Black Student Alliance, and the Duke Society for Advancement of Hispanic/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science.