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WWU Climate Leadership Certificate offers hands-on work for students of any major

Western's Sustainability Engagement Institute seeks to bring awareness of the program to more students

Students taking the Climate Leadership Program study together in Methow Valley, Wash. in summer 2023. The third cohort just finished their practicum experience this past summer. // Courtesy of Luke Hollister

The associate director of the Sustainability Engagement Institute at Western Washington University wants students from all majors to consider the “tight-knit” and “transformative” experience that the Climate Leadership Certificate program provides.

The program is entering its fourth cohort this year and begins with two leadership classes before transitioning into a paid practicum experience where students can volunteer either in Methow Valley or Bellingham. It’s common for students to wish they had known and participated in the program earlier in their time at Western, said Associate Director Lindsey MacDonald.  

As an entry point into environmental and volunteer work, MacDonald said this certificate is a great first step for students who “are eager to make positive change but haven't had much prior experience.” 

One member from the first cohort, Sophie Manning, said that it can be very difficult to get involved with social work while in school, but the practicum experience allowed her to do just that. She worked with the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center in Bellingham as part of the practicum.

“I met so many people that were doing social justice work in Bellingham and in Whatcom County in general, and I got to see a pretty wide array of the work that was being done,” Manning said.

MacDonald expressed concerns that students who work in Methow Valley become very close and build a community, while students working in Bellingham struggle to find that same community in the Climate Leadership program. 

One change that will be implemented for the fourth cohort, she shared, is that every week during the summer practicum, Bellingham students will meet for a half day to do “surface work” and “community building” as a large group. 

One of the Methow Valley practicum work opportunities is to volunteer at the Foundation for Youth Resiliency and Engagement in Okanogan County. Students work with the foundation’s co-executive director, Mady Sandoval, to help impoverished youth advocate for themselves. 

Students from the third cohort, Sandoval explained, helped develop two programs. First, they studied how impoverished youth can “stretch their dollar” to buy food at the best prices in Okanogan County. Second, they researched where to find accessible employment and schooling opportunities. 

“We try and build leadership opportunities for the youth that we serve,” said Sandoval. 

Sandoval graduated from Western and wanted to major in environmental justice but couldn’t because the program did not yet exist. Her goals with the Foundation for Youth Resiliency and Engagement align with MacDonald’s hope for the Climate Leadership Certificate.  

“This program is really designed to teach those leadership skills for students to be able to say, you know, here's how I plug in at a community level to make change on this thing that I really care about,” MacDonald said.

Looking back on her experience, Manning said the practicum work helps students focus on ways in which they can exercise all the things they're learning in their smaller community, and then think about the world as a whole.

To apply for the program, students must be of third-year standing, submit a one- to two-page personal statement explaining their interest in the program, and send in their resume with relevant coursework and experience. Applications for the Climate Leadership Certificate’s fourth cohort are due Oct. 27 and can be submitted to using the subject line "CLC Cohort 4 application."

Hayden Knoedler

Hayden Knoedler (he/him) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a third-year student at Western working to complete a minor in News/Editorial journalism to accommodate his Creative Writing major. In his free time, he enjoys taking photos and playing video games. You can reach him at 

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