Welcoming the newest YSE admissions ambassador, Liz Plascencia!
Authored by Liz Plascencia (MEM Candidate, Class of 2022)
My name is Liz Plascencia (she/her/hers) and I am a first-year Master of Environmental Management (MEM) from Los Angeles, California. As a Queer, Latinx, First-Generation Mexican American – I am extremely interested in the intersectionality of environmental issues while considering the nexus between climate solutions, racial equity, and justice. At the Yale School of Environment (YSE), I am specializing in Water Resource Science and Management. I am hoping to better understand coastal climate adaptation and mitigation planning efforts, while considering the lens of environmental justice within urban populations.
Before coming to YSE, I was working on coastal stewardship through climate mitigation and adaptation in the South Pacific (i.e. Hawaiian archipelago, Tonga, and Fiji). Most of my professional work has focused on coastal management, hosting large-scale beach clean-ups, community and local stakeholder engagement, and plastic pollution education and outreach.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was drawn to the Pacific Ocean as an escape from the metropolitan chaos. But, the inviting sandy shores of Santa Monica and Malibu are also where I first noticed land-based litter strewn about the beach in the form of single-use plastic packaging and thousands of cigarette butts. Since then, I’ve observed an increase of human impact onto coastal ecosystems in the form of marine debris, coastal erosion, coral bleaching events, sea-level rise, and more.
In 2016, my passion for exploration and curiosity for Earth systems led me to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Geological Earth Sciences from Dickinson College as a Posse Foundation Scholar. In my four years at Dickinson, I traveled to Cuba, Baffin Island and British Columbia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, France, Peru, and Chile. I focused on international research in anthropogenic climate change, paleoclimate proxies, volcanology, natural hazards, and international climate policy. My educational foundation in geology, climate science, and policy inspired me to focus on empowering local grassroots climate movements.
In 2018, my craving for hands-on environmental work led me to join a research sailing opportunity in Tonga with Ocean Ambassadors. This non-profit works on small island development in the South Pacific where climate change disproportionately affects marginalized communities. We focused on coastal restoration, beach clean-ups, and environmental education workshops. Our sailing vessel was a traditional Polynesian double-hull voyaging canoe and doubled as our eco-classroom. Prior to this, I had never sailed, but I was confident in my swimming ability, passion for ocean conservation, and drive to learn practical skills. Witnessing the plastic pollution crisis coupled with intense coral beaching in one of the most beautiful places in the world left a lasting impression on me.
Finally, my most recent work with Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i (SCH) on O’ahu, Hawai’i informed my decision to apply to YSE. You can call it the “last straw”. SCH is a grassroots, local non-profit organization that inspires Hawaiian communities to care for coastlines through stewardship, educational programming, and public awareness campaigns. We educate our volunteers about the refuse strewn across beaches and how we can mitigate the adverse effects that pollutants have on human and habitat health.
It was there in Hawai’i, where I observed millions of colorful particles of plastic superimposed onto the quartz sand and coral sediments. As a geologist, I can tell you that the story of sand is a tale of earth history. It’s millennia of erosion, weathering, and deposition in a handful. This physical indicator in the form of plastic pollution dusted across yet another pristine landscape has driven my interest to work on solutions tenfold.
My love for science, gift in communication, and belief in humanity to work on inclusive and equitable climate adaption has ultimately led me here to YSE. I’m excited to tap back into the natural and social sciences to elevate the complex relationship among science, management, and policy within the environment.