Jaynell D. Nicholson

Environmental Fellow, The JPB Foundation

And - Dual degree Graduate Student, Indiana University's School for Public and Environmental Affairs, M.S. Environmental Science/MPA (Public Affairs)


Representation is a lot more important than most people realize, so don't be afraid to share your story.

What do you do?

As a fellow, I am working on a community resilience mapping project with hopes to find connections and commonalities between various environmental grants. 

As a graduate student, my concentration is Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management. I am broadly interested in working in urban social-ecogological systems: I want to solve environmental problems in cities like flooding, urban heat, storm-water mitigation and access to natural resources in a clean and equitable way by increasing green space. I have done some research looking at trends in EPA emissions data and look forward to continuing that work this fall. My undergraduate degree in in Environmental Conservation Biology, where I did a lot of research in ecology looking at plant roots, water quality, and sediment nutrient sorption. My research experience was incredibly valuable and led me to ask greater questions about how the people work with the environment.

Why did you choose this field?

When I was younger I loved being outside and exploring. I collected rocks and always wondered how the fossils got in there and what impact humans had on those organisms. As I got older I wished I had the same exposure to the environment as my peers (national parks, wildlife refugees, etc.).  I found myself wishing that more people were curious and passionate about exploring and protecting the natural environment. Through most of my schooling I have been surrounded by people that that did not look like me or share my background and I wanted to change that. I got involved with various campus programs student organizations and the national Scientista Foundation that really introduced me to role models and gave me community and opportunities to help students in STEM that came after me.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

In my fellowship role, I am learning a lot about the role of philanthropy in the world and how it can be applied to various fields. I think I always dreamed of doing science one way and for a long time I was only exposed to science in academia. Over the last few years I have learned that I can do environmental science in many different sectors and apply environmental science in different contexts. Intersectionality is important in all contexts, but specifically looking into the job world, I wish I knew it was possible to combine so many fields. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love solving problems and looking for answers to my questions. The way the world works is so cool to me and I love learning something new everyday whether its at school, work or through my other science friends on Twitter. As for my current position specifically, I love working with a Foundation that is interested in looking analyzing their impact on communities. It is nice to see some of my technical skills I have previously learned for science applications, applied to a more service-lead field.

Best advice for next generation?

1. Find a way to always bring your passion to the table.  Don't let anyone tell you that you can't combine the things that you love. For me I always thought I had to choose between science and service. I thought that if i was a scientist, I couldn't impact the community the way that I wanted and I thought that if I focused on service I wouldn't be taken seriously as a scientist. Know that all of your experiences are valid and its okay to explore your interests.

2. Don't forget where you came from. Reach back and help someone coming after you. Volunteer, mentor, do outreach! Representation is a lot more important than most people realize, so don't be afraid to share your story.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

I love to write poetry and I am working on a short book in my (non-existent) free time. 

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