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Small fishing boats along the sandy shore in Mexico.

In Pursuit of Environmental Justice

Fellowship and symposium honoring conservationist Michael Mantell

The world needs all voices and perspectives to address problems like climate change and pollution. However, systemic discrimination has led to unequal representation in the quest for solutions. The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management is committed to creating a more inclusive field. To that end, the Michael Mantell Fellowship and Symposium supports emerging leaders who work toward environmental justice, social equity, and climate resilience. Michael Mantell is the founder and former president of Resources Legacy Fund (RLF).

In 20 years, RLF has helped to conserve over five million acres, advance new environmental approaches and policies, and generate more than $30 billion in new public funding for water, land, and ocean conservation. Michael also helped create the independent Resources Law Group and founded the affiliated Fund for a Better Future and Shared Ascent Fund. He previously served as undersecretary for the State of California, general counsel for World Wildlife Fund, and deputy city attorney in Los Angeles.

Michael’s friends and colleagues joined the RLF board to endow a prestigious Bren School program in his honor.

“Here’s a man who has spent his life conserving land and water resources in California and all over the world,” said Jeanne Sedgwick, RLF board vice chair and former director of the Conservation and Science Program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. “Michael chaired at least $8 billion in California bond acts that conserve parks and water for underserved communities. I thought: we need to do more to honor his extraordinary career than just give him a gold watch.”

Because so much of Michael’s work had been focused on advancing social equity, a program that trained diverse environmental leaders was the perfect fit.

“I’m honored and privileged,” said Michael. “A focus on underserved students is so important for those individuals and for the future of progress on the environment and our society.”

The Michael Mantell Fellowship pairs promising undergraduates with graduate student mentors. The student teams intern together at a Bren School partner organization or participate in fieldwork. In 2022, 11 fellows worked with partners including the Ojai Land Conservancy, Ocean Defenders Alliance, and Audubon California. Graduate fellows receive training in leadership and mentorship, and undergraduate fellows participate in a professional development series.

Cristina Mancilla is a Mantell Fellow and a second-year master’s student at the Bren School. The fellowship helped her travel to La Paz, Mexico, with Emma Vega, a freshman accounting and economics major, Promise Scholar, and first-generation college student. Cristina and Emma lived and worked together while building trust with local oyster aquaculture fishermen. Through these relationships, Cristina learned that there can be a disconnect between conservation implementation and what communities need.

“I saw how unsustainable outside conservation projects could be to some communities, and I only could have learned this by witnessing it in person. This experience was formative in shaping how I want to apply what I’m learning. Through this fellowship, supporters have created relationships among people who otherwise would never have met, and I’m grateful for that experience,” said Cristina.

At the first Mantell Symposium this fall, interns will participate as panel members and present posters during the reception to share the results of their summer projects. The symposium will feature a keynote speaker and inspiring lectures from global leaders.

“Michael and I shared a close working relationship on the RLF board, and I have the utmost respect for his enormously impactful work in conservation and environmental justice,” said Dean Steve Gaines. “The Mantell Fellowship and Symposium will continue his legacy by training diverse new environmental leaders to follow in his footsteps. On behalf of the Bren School, I am so grateful for the community that has supported this program.”

“I hope this program helps young people feel good about their experience,” said Michael. “I’m excited that we have a whole new generation of people from diverse communities pursuing environmental science and protecting the planet.”