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Students engage in sustainable practices with new Climate Leadership Certificate

New program at Western will pay students to take part in climate activism

Cameron Katz, who moved to Bellingham from Arizona, appreciates Lake Padden. With help from his friends at Western Washington University, Katz is learning more about the Pacific Northwest and the natural life it sustains. // Photo by Rowan Westwood

Western Washington University's new Climate Leadership Certificate program is about giving students power. Not the oil-and-gas kind that has sent the world into a climate crisis, but the organizing-and-innovating kind that might help save it.

Lindsay MacDonald, interim director of Western’s Office of Sustainability, said the program is the result of the question, “What can we do about climate change?”

Macdonald said the Climate Leadership Certificate program provides undergrads with ample preparation for environmental advocacy outside of Western, including sustainable leadership classes and independent study. 

This is the program’s first year, making this the first cohort of leaders at Western.

The program, which includes five quarters of coursework and a practicum, is supported and run by Western’s Office of Sustainability. It is open to students of junior status and above who are interested in "climate action and justice, economic vitality, environmental protection, community health, and equity," according to the program’s website

“The cohort is a pilot program that was funded by Western’s Sustainability, Equity & Justice Fund,” MacDonald said. “It was really initiated because it’s become clear that students understand how bad climate change is … How do you take that information and do something positive, hopeful and tangible?” 

Jill MacIntyre Witt teaches several classes that are prerequisites for the program. She said the program emphasizes that climate issues are not merely environmental, they are social and economic as well. 

According to the application, students are asked to describe how previous experiences have led them to an interest in climate activism as well as how they would contribute to equity and justice.

Other individuals a part of the Office of Sustainability, such as Johnathan Riopelle, the Sustainability, Equity, & Justice Fund program manager, pointed to the skills and professional opportunities that may follow certification.

“The program provides students with valuable training and experience in the field of sustainability,” Riopelle said via email.

The fund Riopelle oversees is fueled by a $7 fee that was established in 2005 in response to lobbying from the Students for Renewable Energy Club. Students voted to renew the fee in 2010 and 2018. 

Craig Dunn is a part of the Wilder Distinguished Professorship of Business and Sustainability at Western. He said the program is a necessary new field for the university. He said students and faculty are always learning from each other. 

“Part of the educational mission of the university is to teach students the complexity of the issues that you are, unfortunately, inheriting from people in my generation,” Dunn said. 

Through the program, students have the chance to get hands-on experience through internships in various communities. 

Olivia Kaulfus is a rising fourth-year student at Western. Kaulfus is a Climate Leadership Certificate intern for a ten-week paid program located in Winthrop, Washington, a town in the eastern Cascades with fewer than 400 residents. With half of the students in the program located in Bellingham, the other half is in the Methow Valley, located in Winthrop where Kaulfus operates. 

Kaulfus works closely with the town planner, Rocklynn Culp, on sustainable urban planning. Some of their projects include creating trailhead facilities, new roads, and planning a boat launch. 

Details regarding the program and application for the 2022-2023 school year can be found at

Rowan Westwood

Rowan Westwood (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front. She is a senior double majoring in Communication studies and Journalism News/Editorial. In her free time she enjoys spending time with friends, consuming poetry, drinking copious amounts of caffeine and listening to sad indie pop. 

You can reach her at or @rowestwood on Instagram. 

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