2022 YSE Alumni Association Award Winners

Meet the distinguished alums who were recognized at YSE Reunion 2022 for their outstanding work in forest genetics, environmental law, and climate policy.

Breaking Barriers in Forest Genetics

sharon friedman
Sharon Friedman ’77 MFS

Sharon Friedman ’77 MFS only spent one year of her undergraduate career at Yale University, but it was long enough to affect the entire course of her career — and her life. During her time as an undergraduate, she took a course that taught basic knowledge in the fledgling field of environmental science, which sparked Friedman’s interest in a career in forestry. Ultimately it inspired her to return to New Haven and pursue a Master of Forest Science degree at what was then Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (now YSE).

It was an early example of the many times in her life — and in her career in forest science — that Friedman would defy expectations and challenge norms. During her career, Friedman established the National Forest Genetics Lab in California, a hub of genetic testing and resource sharing for land managers that still operates today under the umbrella of the U.S. Forest Service. She served in roles with the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and the National Environmental Policy Act. She was also on the staff of Florida Congresswoman Carrie Meek and volunteered with the Society of American Foresters.

“Because there were a number of fields in forest science and management — and usually few or no other women — I never felt pressure to be like anyone else,” she says.

Finding Common Ground through Environmental Law

brandi colander
Brandi Colander ’07 MEM

The ability to locate mutual concerns and use them to build toward substantive progress is a skill that has served Brandi Colander ’07 MEM well, as her career has ranged from serving as an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council to positions in the federal government where she helped advance and approve the country’s first offshore wind lease.

Part of the first cohort to complete a joint degree with YSE and Vermont Law School, Colander was appointed deputy general counsel at the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2012 and has served as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior.

Colander says she has made it a priority to bring an environmental justice perspective to her work in each of these roles.

“There is a deficit of people of color in this space, and we can be better about making room and appreciating the expertise of different demographics and their experiences,” says Colander, who now serves as an energy policy and sustainability adviser.

Crafting a Plan to Meet California’s Carbon Neutral Goals

Shereen D’Souza ’12 MESc

Shereen D’Souza’s path to becoming an environmental leader began when she joined the Peace Corps straight out of college and was assigned to help hillside subsistence farmers in Honduras. D’Souza ’12 MESc went on to tackle urban food justice in Oakland, California, and agricultural issues in her ancestral home in India.

Her interest in international work led her to YSE, where she was impressed by Michael Dove, Margaret K. Musser Professor of Social Ecology, whose work focuses on environmental relations of local communities in South and Southeast Asia. After graduating from YSE, D’Souza served in the U.S. Department of State as an adaptation and loss and damage negotiator, where she was engaged in the process that ultimately resulted in the Paris Agreement and its adoption.

D'Souza is now deputy secretary for climate policy and intergovernmental relations with the California EPA. She is working with the team at the California Air Resources Board to wrap up the planning process to make the state carbon neutral by 2045. Dubbed the 2022 Scoping Plan, it will become the official playbook for making the goal a reality.

“This is an actual, actionable plan for carbon neutrality for the world’s fifth largest economy,”  D’Souza says. “Other governments are going to pick up on what we’re doing.”