FAMU Receives Funds to Increase Student Participation in Climate Policy

December 09, 2022
FAMU Climate Policy Fellows
FAMU Receives Funds to Increase Student Participation in Climate Policy

FAMU Alum Eric O’Rear, Ph.D., ensures that FAMU students are involved in climate policy discussions.

Tallahassee, FL – Florida A&M University (FAMU) received a $150,000 gift from Heising-Simons Foundation through the Foundation for City College of New York to increase students’ understanding of public policy and climate-related issues. 

Eric O’Rear, Ph.D., a senior analyst with Rhodium Group in the Energy and Climate Practice, wants to increase the diversity in the environmental policy space.  The 2008 FAMU graduate wanted to ensure that his alma mater joined City College of New York (CCNY) in offering the Climate Policy Fellows Program.

Eric O'RearEric O’Rear speaks to students in the Climate Policy Fellows Program. (Credit: Christian Whitaker)

The Climate Policy Fellows Program is designed to introduce undergraduates to the linkage of engineering, economics, and climate related-science to public policy.  Support is provided to any student that has the desire to affect climate change through policy.  Students will receive training, professional development, and internship opportunities by participating in intensive workshops led by national and international climate policy experts.

O’Rear was concerned with the small number of African Americans in this sector that shapes science, engineering, and economics research through public policy.

“I knew that I wanted to diversify the field by increasing awareness and hopefully encouraging FAMU students to consider working in the climate policy space,” said O’Rear, who earned a Ph.D. in agricultural economics (Energy and Natural Resources Economics specialty) from Purdue University in 2014.  He credits his FAMU education – a bachelor’s in mathematical sciences and a minor in economics – played a significant role in the person he is today.

When O’Rear reached out to his former professor and mentor, Sonya A. F. Stephens, Ph.D., she accepted the charge and coordinated the development of the gift, program and its administration in collaboration with the Office of University Advancement staff. 

“I was so excited about this initiative,” she said.  “I knew that I wanted to help him continue the legacy of providing opportunities to our students in disciplines that have little representation of people of color.”   

After the competitive process, 21 Fellows were accepted into the inaugural FAMU Climate Policy Fellows Program.  

During the first term, the Fellows met on campus for their first workshop in September.  During the two-day session, they were introduced to basic concepts, policy, and the history of factors that affect the climate.  They also met in November to learn professional pathways into the climate policy space from the following speakers.

  • Tony Reames, Ph.D., deputy director of Energy Justice at the U.S. Department of Energy
  • Trevor Houser, partner at Rhodium Group (Energy and Climate Practice)
  • Dan Mathis, adjunct professor at Columbia University and policy fellow at Next100
  • Michelle Graff, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State
  • Emily Wimberger, Ph.D., climate economist at Rhodium Group (Energy and Climate Practice)
  • John E. Williams, Ph.D., associate director at The Earth Institute at Columbia University

The Fellows also participated in a Professional Development Corporate Dining Etiquette activity to ensure they could navigate this critical networking interaction.

Alexis Goree, a senior architect student, one of the inaugural Fellows, stated that “I’ve always been an advocate of us as human beings taking care of what we rely on the most, which is earth/ Mother Nature.  “Live with her, not on her” is what I like to say.”

The FAMU Climate Policy Fellows Program supports students with a $1,000 stipend per semester, professional development experiences, and financial assistance for summer internships the first year.  Students participating in the first year will have the opportunity to continue the following year by receiving the stipend and delving deeper into public policy.  At the conclusion of the second year, each Fellow will create a policy brief or assist with the research in creating one.   Students from any major can participate in the Program.  The applicant’s motivation should be an interest in making an effective change in our climate.

For more information about the FAMU Climate Policy Fellows Program, please contact Sonya A. F. Stephens at sonya.stephens@famu.edu and (850) 599 – 3379.  The next application period will open in April 2023.

2022 – 2023 FAMU Climate Policy Fellows

  • Guilandia Aristilde, (Social Work)
  • Jordyn Bew (Criminal Justice)
  • Ra’Caria Burgess (Computer Science)
  • Jeremiah Fisher (Accounting)
  • Dene Garrett (Architecture)
  • Alexis Goree (Architectural Studies)
  • Demi Howard (Agriculture Science)
  • Jamellah Jackson (Health Informatics & Information Management)
  • Joi Johnson (Pre-Nursing)
  • Alexis Law (Business Administration)
  • Brianna Leonard (Political Science major)
  • India McDuffie (Psychology major)
  • Xavier Odom (Biology Pre-Med major)
  • Mylia Rice (Criminal Justice major)
  • Ashley Saddler (Architecture major)
  • Astou Seck (Health Care Management major)
  • Kaienja Smith (Psychology major)
  • Eljaye Tellis (Pharmaceutical Science major)
  • Don Thompson (Criminal Justice major)
  • Jaelyn Wilkins (Criminal Justice major)
  • Alysia Williams (Pre-Veterinary Technology major)