YSE Class of ’22: Kristina Rodriguez is Focused on Preserving Coastal Ecosystems
A childhood appreciation of South Florida’s dunes and mangroves led Kristina Rodriguez to become deeply invested in conserving the state’s coastal ecosystems for future generations.
Growing up in Miami, Florida, Kristina Rodriguez ’22 MEM became deeply aware of and invested in coastal ecosystems. At an early age, she would participate in beach cleanups, dune restoration efforts, and take field trips to the Everglades with her Girl Scouts troop to learn about endangered species. Rising seas and intensifying hurricanes at her doorstep heightened her desire to protect natural barriers such as salt marshes and mangroves.
A first-generation college graduate, Rodriguez says her volunteer work also exposed her to the challenges that lower-income communities face in obtaining fresh, healthy food. While at the University of Florida, she started the Strong Roots Movement, which brings edible garden beds to underserved elementary schools and at-risk youth centers in the Gainesville area. She also founded a chapter of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on conserving oceans and promoting the sustainable use of marine resources.
She deepened her interest in the environment, and particularly in environmental justice, as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, which is a two-year experiential learning summer program for undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds, at the University of Florida. Rodriguez then brought her environmental justice focus to her graduate studies at YSE, researching and analyzing environmental policy, climate change mitigation, and coastal ecosystems conservation.
In 2020, Rodriguez interned at the Miami-Dade County Office of Resilience Mitigation as a research analyst, working with a team to develop its first climate adaption strategy plan. Last summer she worked with the Connecticut Audubon Society and the Connecticut Association of Conservation Districts, promoting conservation of coastal ecosystems along the Long Island Sound, and developing initiatives to help low-income communities build nature-based resilience to climate change. She also has interned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Rodriguez has also been active in promoting diversity at YSE. She joined several student interest groups, including the Yale Environmental Women’s SIG, and is a board member of Women and Gender Minorities in Science at Yale (WISAY). In the fall semester she organized an event for Hispanic Heritage Month at Kroon Hall featuring a panel discussion with Latinx alumni and faculty members.
“I am someone who always believes in giving back, in recognizing what got you to where you are and reflecting on that — and then also making sure that we pave the way forward for the next generation,” she says. “It is about the women who have come before me, and it is going to be about the women who come after me. I want to make sure that women recognize that they deserve to be here just as much as anyone else.”
YSE Professor of Economics Matthew Kotchen says Rodriguez is a role model.
“Kristina has provided outstanding leadership as one of the student co-leaders for the Environmental Policy Analysis Learning Community. She is dedicated, hardworking, and a natural leader. She sets a high-water mark for others to follow,” he says.
After graduating, Rodriguez is looking into working with a nongovernmental organization focused on restoring and conserving blue carbon ecosystems. She also will continue to help at-risk communities.
She defines success as “seeing these beautiful, pristine blue carbon coastal ecosystems being protected and seeing a significant increase in biodiversity in these areas that have been so largely degraded.”
While it is a tough field, Rodriguez says she is quite hopeful.
“What gives me hope is the people in the field currently, the next generation, my colleagues, and my classmates. We understand what we are facing, but we know we can create a paradigm shift and be part of the solution,” Rodriguez says.