Youth Leaders in Environmental Health
Athena Verghis - 2020
Athena Verghis is a freshman at Georgia Tech majoring in environmental engineering. Her passion for natural resources and preservation has been exemplified from a very young age. In fourth grade, she partnered with Elmer’s Glue to expand glue stick and bottle recycling to her elementary school. From there, her love only grew. She has promoted environmental awareness through her involvement and leadership in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Student Bay Advisory Council where she has worked with students across the watershed to improve environmental literacy, legislation, and action. She has also served as the Student Member of the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board, a role she uses to provide a student perspective to environmental issues and solutions within her county alongside environmental leaders. Furthermore, she researched under professors from the University of Maryland, College Park to analyze the damaging effects of Neonicotinoids on pollinator populations.
Most recently, she was awarded the opportunity to serve as the keynote speaker for the 2020 Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit where she shared a message of hope and urgency, providing a unique student perspective on Maryland’s battle against climate change. As she moves forward, Athena wants to focus her studies and work to prepare urban environments to be able to withstand the impacts of climate change.
Diana Fernandez - 2020
Diana Fernandez was born and raised in Miami, FL, and currently attends Barbara Goleman Sr. High School as a rising junior. Her family moved to the United States from Cuba shortly before Diana and her brother were born. For as long as she can remember, Diana has been fighting for her community and racial justice issues. When she was in middle school, she came to the realization that one of the biggest issues affecting her community was the environment. Since then, Diana has been dedicated to tackling environmental justice issues, and more specifically, the disproportionate effects of climate change in Miami.
Diana works on the finance team of the international youth climate organization, Zero Hour. She is also a policy team member for the National Children's Campaign, a national organization fighting for the rights of America's 74 million children. Diana helped to implement the Zero Hour Youth Climate Summit in Miami, Florida in July of 2020. While attending The Madeira School in Mclean, VA, she was head of her class's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Justice committee where she facilitated conversations relating to race and inclusivity, and worked to show students how to be a white ally at a predominantly white institution, as well as to eliminate the use of micro-aggressions and internalized racism. Diana is an advocate for environmental justice and plans to become a lawyer. She has aspirations to run for office in the future and works daily to fight for the issues that she cares about most.
Harshal Agrawal - 2019
Harshal is a student researcher and environmental advocate at Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in Jersey City, NJ. He and his family moved to America from India when he was seven and he dearly believes that change lies at the intersection of science and public policy. For the past 5 years, he has been developing a cost-effective, eco-friendly, and easy to implement method to prevent Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) using Stropharia Mycelium, or the root structure of the Stropharia Mushroom. In 8th grade, Harshal discovered, using very elementary testing methods, that Stropharia Mycelium could remove the algae-causing nutrients from running water. Later that summer, a beloved, local nature reservoir near his house fell victim to a devastating HAB and this compelled him to continue and expand his research. Just recently, with supporting data from his four years of lab testing, he lobbied his local county freeholders and got approval to implement his research at a local HAB-stricken pond for field testing. Harshal was recognized as EPA’s 2019 Patrick H. Hurd Award winner for this work.
Alongside his research, Harshal also advocates for environmental change in his school district. Because of lead contamination of the drinking water, all school water fountains had been shut off for years. The school district had been shipping in water coolers and replacement jugs weekly from PA over 110 miles away. This solution was neither economically nor environmentally sustainable, and thus Harshal started a petition to the school district, which amassed more than 1000 signatures, to install lead filters on all the water fountains in his school. The filters were recently installed, but that did not end Harshal’s activism and leadership. He also organized a school-wide walkout in support of the global youth strike against climate change. He hopes to pursue both environmental engineering and public policy next year at Stanford.
Aryaana Khan - 2019
Aryaana was born and raised in Bangladesh - a country submerged underwater every year as a result of climate change. She moved to New York City in 2010, and began working in environmental and climate activism when she was 13 years old. Since high school, Aryaana has educated her peers and youth from around the country on the science of climate change, and empowered young people like her to take action. She has participated in policy-making work with Global Kids and the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). She has also done intersectional advocacy work through mediums such as art and spoken word with the Climate Museum and Urban Word NYC.
Outside of climate advocacy, she has done intersectional work for immigrant and worker rights, community displacement, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and environmental health. Currently, Aryaana is working with a delegation around the UNSG Climate Summit while attending CUNY City College. In the future, she hopes to pursue a medical career in which she can mitigate the health impacts caused by larger issues such as environmental inequity and climate change.
Arshdeep Kaur - 2018
Arshdeep is a student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2017, she partnered with another student as well as the local nonprofit Cool Green Schools to address environmental health challenges in Baltimore City public schools. BCPS students and teachers often contend with a variety of environmental issues that get in the way of learning, ranging from poor temperature control and air quality to the presence of pests. Arshdeep and her partners focus on empowering students at two BCPS high schools to study and change their environments, with funding from the JHU Urban Health Institute. Students learn about the process of scientific inquiry as well as the principles of environmental health, and then apply that knowledge to develop and carry out their own research projects. Past projects include testing the water in school facilities for bacteria and creating a mobile flower cart to improve mental health.
Arshdeep believes that responses to health issues must be rooted in the communities being affected, and that young people need to be supported and given the tools to enact change. She plans to continue her work in the field of public health and promote community-based health solutions to reduce health disparities.
Hakim, inspired by President Barack Obama for his leadership on climate change, decided to pursue his interest in climate leadership by joining the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) Action Fellowship. Hakim has a deep interest in public health, and the intersections of climate change and environmental justice. He is involved with NYC Smoke-Free Reality Check where he helps to combat the tactics of tobacco marketing directed towards youth within New York City and across the state and end tobacco proliferation within New York City.
Through ACE, Hakim hopes to gain experience in the fields of climate education and advocacy. His deep passion for advocacy and a strong belief in our moral obligation to solve climate change fuels his drive to ensure that his community is educated and resilient in the fight against our current climate crisis. His personal experience feeling record-breaking warm temperatures in the summer of 2016 further encouraged his interest to pursue a Fellowship with ACE.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez - 2017
Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, (his first name pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’) is a indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement.
At the early age of six Xiuhtezcatl began speaking around the world, from the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York city. He has worked locally to get pesticides out of parks, coal ash contained, and moratoriums on fracking in his state and is currently a lead plaintiff in a youth-led lawsuit against the federal government for their failure to protect the atmosphere for future generations.
Xiuhtezcatl has traveled across the nation and to many parts of the world educating his generation about the state of the planet they are inheriting. His message has inspired youth to join the front lines to combat the environmental and climate crisis that is impacting their future, as well as form Earth Guardian crews in over 30 countries.
In 2013, Xiuhtezcatl received the 2013 United States Community Service Award from President Obama, and was the youngest of 24 national change-makers chosen to serve on the President's youth council.
Bill Mckibben of 350.org calls Xiuhtezcatl "an impressive spokesman for a viewpoint the world needs to hear.”
There are many groups Analaura is involved with, but her first exposure to the community’s needs was through Activate Whittier in 8th grade. Its goal is to decrease obesity rates in Whittier compared to surrounding cities. To be part of the movement against obesity, Analaura designed a logo for Healthy Picks, a program encouraging corner stores in Whittier to stock and promote healthier items. She spends weekends at the stores explaining the program to shoppers. There are many things Analaura has learned through her service, but most prominent is her belief everyone has the ability to change the world regardless or stereotypes, gender biases, or age. She is determined to attend Stanford University and major in political science to continue her mission of creating a better world.
Sunilda Frias - 2016
Sunilda works with a non-profit organization called Centro de Apoyo Familiar (CAF) as a promotora (lay community health and environmental educator), where she learned about the issues affecting her community.
She has promoted awareness about lead, radon, and mercury poisoning prevention, litter management, asthma management and other environmental awareness programs specifically geared toward the youth and growing first time homebuying hispanic community.
Sunilda´s work focuses on serving her community by making information and resources accessible such as applicable safety measures concerning cigarette smoke, household toxins, and other risks for Spanish speaking daycare providers.
She also educates youth through enrichment programs by coaching soccer and volleyball for middle and high students while teaching them how to recycle properly.
Sunilda is now starting her freshman year as a Biology major at the University of Massachusetts- Lowell and she commits to furthering her impact within her community.