Conservation Realist
Conservation Realist Podcast
Classroom to Trail, Mountains to Sea

Classroom to Trail, Mountains to Sea

On Lenovo's Work for Humankind program, with Aniya Martin and Angel Teagle

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  • The integrative, applied field of emergency management (seriously, it’s fascinating)

  • Lenovo’s Work for Humankind partnership with HBCU Elizabeth City State University

  • Diversity in education and career opportunities, and empowering access to nature

  • Immersive, practical learning experiences for students

  • The impact of generosity in sharing information and connections with students


More on the Lenovo partnership with Elizabeth City State University here and here


Hello everyone, and welcome to Conservation Realist! I am Dr. Tara Sayuri Whitty and I am here with Episode 12.

I just have to say that the newly launched auto-transcription feature on Substack has made my life much easier this episode. It's actually surprisingly good. So, thank you for that, Substack. Hopefully this means there'll be less of a lag time between my episodes in the future - I make no promises though. As one of my my aunts in Ireland will often write in her letters to us: “I live in hope.”

So, Episode 12. This was an unexpected opportunity for a conversation, actually two conversations, that popped up in my inbox back in May (I can't believe it's September). But this email was from Jamie at NP Strategy. He was part of a team working with Lenovo specifically on bringing attention to their Work for Humankind initiative.

And I've just kind of realized that Work for Humankind, WFH, like “work from home.” Doesn't seem to be a coincidence, because this initiative is focused on making positive, long-lasting difference in the world while using remote technology, which seems pretty nicely aligned, so good job whoever came up with that.

But the specific project of the Work for Humankind initiative that they were reaching out to me about was a partnership with an HBCU (Historically Black College and University), Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, as part of North Carolina's Year of the Trail. This was an opportunity over three weeks for different groups of students from Elizabeth City State University to learn through immersive experiential learning along the Mountain to Sea Trail in North Carolina. Part of this was supported by a mobile tech hub provided by Lenovo (if I understand correctly, it was transported via van). This tech hub allowed them to complete classwork as they were on the road, or on the trail, I guess, as well as to support their efforts in the field.

These efforts included collecting research for feasibility study on placement of a trail while considering from tropical storms and hurricanes, designing and building a new web page as a digital trailhead, including an area that has  historical significance to African American heritage, and partnering with Motorola, which it turns out is a Lenovo company, to develop an app for hikers in both English as well as the Cherokee native language. So, pretty cool.

Elizabeth City State University on the Mountains to Sea Trail, through Lenovo’s Work for Humankind project (photo:

But anyways, Jamie was like, well, this might be interesting for you. Would you like to chat with them?

And I was suspicious at first. I was a little skeptical.

I was like, is this another one of those weird conference/journal/book scam deals, like spam? And then I was like, well, I don't really see how it is - they're just asking if I want to chat with these people. And I also was like, well, am I gonna turn into an advertisement to Lenovo? First of all, I have a very small platform - very niche, I'm not really promoting myself that much And I told them that and they're like, no, that's fine. But then I was like, I don't really want to promote a project that's just lip service to diversity because there's a lot of that already.

But as I read more about it, I was like, okay, there's some things that sound really interesting and then like pretty solid ideas. So let's have the conversation and see. And so I was set up to have this conversation with two students from Elizabeth City State University, Anaya Martin and Angel Teagle, as well as a rep from Lenovo and that will be the next episode (I couldn't really squeeze the two into one - there was just too much interesting stuff).

So yeah, in today's episode you'll be hearing from Angel and Anaya. They major in Emergency Management, which I'd never heard of before as a major. And so the conversation isn't as much as it has been about mainstream conservation, biodiversity conservation. But I do think it's really relevant and important for those of us who are in the environmental field in any capacity to learn more about emergency management because it's real. The impacts of climate change have been, continue to be, and will continue to be very, very real, to be a very real threat, particularly to vulnerable communities around the world. And it is an emergency response situation. It’s a disaster risk management situation.

And the way that Angel and Aniya have been educated in this field is a fantastic model for other fields. They don’t only have the technical, theoretical background and practice in the classroom or on Campus, but they're also equipped with kind of on-the-ground practical skills and how to interface with communities, things that are really going to equip them to make a meaningful difference in the real world (I actually really don't like when people say the real world because we're all living in reality, more or less, right? But you know what I mean).

So I really enjoyed learning about emergency management. It sounds like such a cool major. And it sounds like they really valued the opportunity to be part of this partnership between Lenovo and their university. And the importance of Lenovo like purposefully seeking to partner with an HBCU is something that they mention a couple of times during the episode. It sounds like they really were able to have a truly experiential, immersive… experience (“experiential experience”) and that it really empowered them as people who will be working in emergency management in the future and also as people who want to access the outdoors.

And this was another one of Lenovo's goals: to increase the diversity of who feels like they're able to access the great outdoors in the United States. So it was really fun to learn from them like, oh, like this is my first time setting up a tent in nature. And I had a similar experience - my first time camping ever was as part of a field semester in Hawaii and I had no idea what I was doing. I was able to really learn skills about this is how you backpack, this is how you backcountry camp, and that really opened up a lot of enjoyment for me in nature that I don't know how or when I would have accessed otherwise.

And the last thing I want to highlight before we jump in is that yes, it can be really overwhelming to be faced with the systemic issues that are kind of barriers to greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in our field in many different ways. These are problems that are going to require structural changes over the long term with a lot of effort, a lot of discomfort. And I've been asked before, when I give talks and such: how can we as individuals make conservation or the environmental space a better field?

And there's lots of answers to that. But when we're looking at who feels able, feels empowered to be a part of the field, I think there's a lot that we as individuals can do while we still also need to keep fighting for larger scale changes. As individuals, we can still make a difference to other individuals. You know, it's the whole “think global, act local” thing. Especially for those of us in positions of relative privilege in terms of our experience, our networks, our various forms of resources: don't underestimate how much those could help someone who is in the position of relatively less privilege, for example, a younger colleague, a mentee, a student.

In so many cases, I've seen people really amplify what's been shared with them out of just kind generosity. And I've seen that generosity really shape the trajectory of someone's career and life. It doesn't really take that much effort on one person's part to make that difference for someone else. And Angel and Anaya will say this in the conversation, that their current education and career trajectory has been really shaped for the better by people being generous through opening doors, sharing ideas about opportunities with them, basically opening their vistaa to a world of opportunities that they never would have known otherwise.

So yeah, I really enjoyed chatting with Angel and Anaya. Our conversation touched on a lot of really interesting things. I learned a lot, and - I'm not going to turn this into a full on ad for Lenovo, don't worry - I was really pleasantly surprised by their feedback on how their experience with the Work for Humankind project was.

So let's hear a clip of the song The Green Touch by Soe Moe Thwin, Zyan Htet, and Min Min. And just a reminder that song is always played in full at the end of each episode.

Enjoy! Thanks for being here.


T: So I'd love to talk to the two of you about your own kind of history, like how you came to the field of emergency management and that intersection with environmental issues, as well as how your experience with this Work for Humankind project has been. I'd love to start with asking each of you to tell me a little bit about your history and how you came to the field of emergency management.

AM: So, originally, when I applied to college, I was a biology major. At the very last minute, I was like, I don't want to do biology anymore! So, at the time, emergency management just sounded cool to me, but I definitely took the time when I got to campus to learn more about emergency management. The department chair at Dr. Kevin Kupietz, so I literally just set up an appointment with him and was like, hey (I was really honest) I don't know anything about emergency management, and I want to do good my next four years here.

And he offered me so many opportunities, and I just would not have known that that one conversation would have led me eventually here, to Lenovo. He got me in the CERT team, which is the Community Emergency Response Team. That is the team that partnered with Lenovo. I had a little bit of background in emergency management because my high school was an academy, so I was in the health science side. That's why biology. They also had a public safety and a military global leadership academy as well.

So my start just kind of went off that first conversation with Dr. K.

T: I love that. It's always great when someone who's in a position of power and privilege can open up doors and ideas for people, even just on one conversation.

AM: Yes, absolutely. That one conversation got me a load of opportunities that I would not have known about if I wouldn't have just spoke up and advocated for myself.

T: That's awesome. And Angel, how about you?

AT: Yeah, kind of along the same lines. So I originally came to Elizabeth City State University as a UAS major (Unmanned Aircraft Systems). I really thought drones were cool and whatnot. But one day I saw the CERT team land a V-22 Osprey on the on the front lawn of the school. And I'm like: that's super cool…who did that? And, you know, how can I get incorporated with that?

So I talked to Dr. K, who was the chair. And, you know, he explained to me what emergency management is, what the CERT team was. I was like, I'm hooked, I'm gonna do it! So I changed my major and through that, it just opened up a lot of doors. I was able to do a lot of like outreach missions, especially this one right here with Lenovo.

And honestly, was one of the best choices I made in college because I really do love my major. And it's such a niche major that a lot of people that you do meet in this major helps you a lot, and it can go a long way. I didn't know that emergency management was such a big thing before then until I got into the major itself.

T: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, I've never heard of this major! I have exposure to this kind of work primarily through my work in Myanmar, in Southeast Asia. It's a country that has a lot of risk of natural disaster, just really vulnerable populations. It's, I think, ranked second in the world for risks of climate change impacts, intense flooding during the raining season and drought in the dry season. And a lot of my colleagues that I worked on disaster risk management. So I think it's really cool that this is a major at your university.

For those folks who are listening who might not know what emergency management is, would either of you like to give a little summary of what your major entails?

AM: The best way I can put it to explain to people is emergency management is taking all the different parts of an emergency, all those people, all those groups, all those skill sets, and bringing that together. So our job is to like network with people and also know what resources are available to us. Our job is to bring all those collective knowledge and resources together to help make a disaster go as smoothly as possible. There’s preparedness activities, a lot of mitigation, but actually when there's a disaster, which is inevitable, it's our job to bring all those things together to help those communities in need.

T: That's a great explanation. Thank you.

Growing up, and I know you both mentioned this is kind of a new thing to you, but: did you have exposure to the kinds of issues that emergency management touches on? Or even that connection between emergency management and nature? What kind of exposure did you have or awareness did you have of these things before starting this major?

AT: I will say that, you know, before getting into the major, I didn't have a lot, but I was in JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) in high school. And through them, we did a lot of community service. Especially after some of the hurricanes that hit Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I live, we did a lot of, you know, community cleanups and helping around. And I really liked doing that, helping the community and whatnot.

But I never knew that it was a part of a bigger thing, what they call emergency management. So I had a little bit of experience between that part.

AM: So, for me, I think being part of Gen Z, we always hear all the time about the climate crisis, about world events all the time, and you're constantly hearing about it, but it definitely gets to a point at – especially when I was younger, like I was in high school hearing all of this, and it gets to a point where you’re just like, “Dang, I just feel kinda hopeless. Like, I can recycle this piece of plastic, but I don’t feel like I have much power.”

So it’s nice being in emergency management because it gives you a sense of power and security. Like, at the very least, I'm making more of an impact than I would by myself. When we're in a cert team, we're trying to impact a whole community. Even with this opportunity with Lenovo, we have a social media page, an Instagram page, and a YouTube and a Facebook page. We're posting on there a lot. And specifically on the Instagram page, me and Angel have been posting, and we've got a lot of outreach, a lot of people seeing what we're doing. And I hope it inspires others, honestly.

So I feel like I have control of like, at least even if it's in a little bubble, if one person is affected, you're doing your job.

T: Yeah, I'll have to check that out on Instagram for sure. And I think that's so important – so, I'm a Gen X millennial cusper, and when I was first starting my studies, everyone was focusing on preventing climate change. Which is important. But in my head, I was kind of screaming, like, climate change is already happening! We need to be focused on practical adaptation!

So it's really encouraging for me to hear that you're finding that kind of empowerment through pursuing work that's actually going to be useful and the reality that we're living and the reality that's going to be continuing to come at us in the coming decades.

I'm wondering, so environmental management - sorry, emergency management - again, is a new field to me. I do know that across the fields that I'm more familiar with, inclusion and diversity has been a big gap. And I'd love to hear from both of you what you've experienced in terms of that, even earlier into your high school years. Did you feel like there were any barriers to entering a science-related field?

AM: Elizabeth City State University is one of the only HBCUs to have an emergency management program across the country. And also, this year was our first year we had a graduate in our sustainabilities program. So I know a lot of students of color, me specifically, because I am a black woman and I wanted to go to HBCU really bad, it did kind of affect my options - not all the schools that you want have the major that you're going to want to do, so I feel like that's kind of a problem, too. There aren't many schools, like even if I wanted to further my education in emergency management, or even sustainability at an HBCU, the options are kind of limited.

But in my personal experience with emergency, I found that a lot of people in the field are very welcoming and very open arms, but it's not always people that look like you. Now, fortunately for us at Elizabeth City State University, we have Dr. Dorothy Henderson-Bell, and she is a Black woman, and I look up to her so much. She came from Raleigh, the Emergency Management Office in Raleigh, and I really look up to her. I literally see myself in her, so just having that bit of representation as my professor, as someone who is in the field that I want to go to, it is a great stepping stone. Like it is someone to look up to that you see right there in front of your face, someone you can relate to.

T: Yeah, that's fantastic!

AT: Yeah, I would say the same. Coming into Elizabeth State University, you know, it was a very big thing that you get into a STEM major. You know, I didn't know which STEM major it was like, when I first heard STEM, I'm thinking, okay, engineering, or computer science or something like that. But coming into the field of UAS, coming to the field of emergency management, I found that as we did our outreaches to New Mexico and with Lenovo, there is a lot of people in the field that you wouldn't expect having emergency management backgrounds. The CERT team does a lot of outreaches to New Mexico Tech to do training out there. And we meet a lot of people in the field of emergency management, whether it be the NYPD or the FBI, CIA.

And something that I love about this emergency management field is that everyone is willing to give out information. You know, there is not a lot of gatekeeping happening in emergency management. So, if you ask questions, you know, you won't be met with a whole lot of ums and ahs - you'll get, hey, I can help you with this question, and if I don't, I know so-and-so who can definitely help you with it.

There's a lot of great opportunities with just the great community that emergency management is, even though it's very small.

You know, I will throw out this one example. We went to New Mexico for a drone training, and one of our colleagues who went out there with the CERT team, she was just talking to one of the guys. And by the end of that trip, it was only five days, she had an internship with him, never met him before, but just goes to show you how willing the field of emergency management is to give out information to help people who's just now getting into it.

T: I love that. That's so refreshing to hear! Because in my field, it's a mix. There are definitely a lot of really generous people. And a lot of the opportunities come from that person to person networking, but there's there's a lot of other stuff too.

So it sounds like specific to emergency management, maybe the main issue that you would face getting into it is kind of structural, just like what are the opportunities available to you in places where you feel comfortable like an HBCU. And I think that's something that a lot of people don't appreciate when they're not in the shoes of a marginalized group, is they don't understand the importance of being in an environment where you feel comfortable, where you have role models, where you're kind of immersed in an environment where you don't have to worry as much about things like microaggressions, for example. And it's really easy to overlook that when you're coming from the other side, if that makes sense.

AM: I agree with that. I think our school did a great job, being an HBCU, trying to get us out there. So I feel like there are places and niches where you basically can kind of overlook those obstacles because we're getting so many opportunities. Like Angel said, we've been on a lot of trips, we've been in a lot of rooms that would not have been available to us if we weren't an HBCU.

Even Lenovo, they were specifically looking for HBCUs in North Carolina. So if I wouldn’t have been at that school, I would not have gotten that opportunity.

T: And those in those in-person experiences, those opportunities to take trips and be in the field are really important. I've found just in my own career, but also in mentoring other young researchers. So that's really fantastic that you've gotten those opportunities.

I don't know if you know yet, but after graduation, do you have an idea of how you're going to pursue emergency management work?

AT: Yes. So I graduate next year in the spring of ‘24. And I'm currently also in the Reserve Officer Training Corps or ROTC at the college. So, emergency management definitely has given me a lot more opportunities in the civilian sector, as well as more knowledge on leadership in the stuff that I do with the army.

So, definitely after I graduate, if I do want to pursue a career in the civilian world, in emergency management, the opportunities are overflowing. And with my Army career, it definitely does help out because a lot of things that we learn through emergency management, go toe and toe with stuff that the Army teaches – leadership, how to do specific things like a tourniquet, how to teach a class even. Very great skills to have in any field, but specifically in emergency management, I feel they helped me out a lot more than I could have ever asked for after college.

AM: So for me, I feel like every single day I'm finding a new little part of emergency management. There's a lot of different opportunities, especially in North Carolina alone. So I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do. I currently have an internship with the Raleigh Emergency Management Department. So hopefully that'll turn into a career. I graduate next year. But even now, I plan to further my education and try to go to grad school.

T: Yeah, grad school is a great adventure!

And I'm really interested, sorry, this wasn't in my list of questions, but I love how emergency management is a kind of field that really integrates a lot together. But it sounds like at the center of that, of course, is going to be the community that you're working with. So I'd love to hear from you all about what you've learned through your major about the importance of working with communities.

AT: Yeah, so, and the importance of working with communities is - the connections that you make within the community, as well as the trust you build within the community is a huge factor in what you do. So for us, we have a very small community, Elizabeth City, the city in North Carolina. And with this small community that we do have, it's great to get yourself out there and help them because you never know down the line, you know, who could help.

So like, through Lenovo, my group went to this little town Burgaw in North Carolina, and we actually got to meet with the mayor, just because of some of the stuff that we were doing out on the Mountain to Sea Trail. And it was great, because, you never know if you'll get a job in Burgaw County, you know, with stuff helping with the community. It's great opportunities with, like, just the people that you do know.

And if you don't go into their specific town, maybe they do know someone else that you could assist, you know.

T: Yeah, networking is so important.

AM: I feel like for us with the community emergency response team, it goes hand in hand when we work with our community. So, I believe last year we went to a church and we did some COVID testing, and I have a senior project, so we were also giving out go-bags, talking about that, and the interactions we have with the community tell us more what the community needs from us, which means we can in turn do our better.

Also, Elizabeth City, the actual city, does a pretty good job of supporting the school as well. So us, as a CERT team, going out to the community makes the school more popular, gets the word out there, and in turn, the city supports the school more.

Also, when we do go on trips, like for example with Lenovo, my group went to the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks is not that far away from the school, so hopefully we put in place enough good relationships that the school can now start doing work with, like if the Outer Banks has a hurricane, we now have those personal relationships that if they need help, they can send us – the CERT team – which gives the CERT team practice but also gives them the help they need. So I think working with the community goes hand-in-hand. We’ve benefit, they benefit, and at the end of the day, everyone’s in a good position.

T: I know one of the big criticisms of universities when it comes to applied fields, again, like my field of conservation, they're very removed from the real world. You know, they see themselves almost as separate from the issues affecting even the communities that they exist in. And so hearing about your opportunities to go and actually interface with people in the communities around you is such a nice example of academia being of service.

So I'd love to hear more specifically about your experience with Lenovo and the Work for Humankind project. It sounds great! I mean, I love anything that works to build skills and opportunities for young people, and especially to embrace fields where people have traditionally faced barriers. So that's both the environmental field, the science field, as well as tech. I think that these are all fields that can stand to have some really serious work done on diversity and inclusion. But also there's that side of practical experience for you all.

So I'd love to hear each of you say just overall how the experience has been for you working on this Lenovo project.

AM: So for my group in the Outer Banks, we had our own personal projects. We had someone who flies drone there, and it was our job to take a few pictures of just the Outer Banks area because we're doing a project this semester on storm surges, looking at flooding and rising sea levels. We do a lot of work with flooding just because we live in North Carolina and flooding is a big issue across the state, especially in Elizabeth City as well.

So we were able to use that connection with Lenovo to learn more about the Outer Banks because by next semester, we'll be in hurricane season, which is June through November, I believe. So we're already starting to prepare for hurricane season with that.

And also, we got a lot of connections that was really useful, like connections and experience that were useful for our personal lives. So we went to the, I believe it's pronounced Chicamacomico Life Saving Station, which is basically the building block of what's now the Coast Guard. So they were first and the Coast Guard sprang from them. We actually had an individual in my group that was going into the Coast Guard, so it was really nice that we had a lot of individuals from the Coast Guard there.

And they do a tradition where they take their like future chiefs, they bring them to the station and then they have to do a drill. So we were able to be a part of the drill, watch them practice. The girl who was going to be a part of the Coast Guard, she got to ring the bell, so they really made sure we were immersed in that experience. And that was a really cool personal touch as she's going to the Coast Guard next year.

T: Oh, really cool. How about you, Angel?

AT: Yeah, I guess it was a lot of great information on the trail. So I was Week 2 and like, the main takeaways I took was just a lot of history that we had in the region that we were at. So we went to a Rosenwald school, which was which is like, small schools that African Americans could go to. And we got to actually speak with one of the students, Mr. Dr. Richard Newkirk, who was a student at the Rosenwald School in Pedner County. And he was very wise. Just listening to him speak on about his experiences and how times have changed, it was great to actually see that.

And we had the opportunity to actually go to Ocean City, which was one of the few places that black people could own land on the coast. And we went to the community center to the church, we heard how it actually worked out for them. And it was a very informative, very different experience, because you don’t hear about that a lot. Just off of what Ocean City was, because a lot of people see it only as a beach – but there was so much more than that to a lot of people from history.

And lastly, we went to the Morris Creek Battlefield, which was the first decisive win in the Revolutionary War for the Americans. And that was a great piece of history as well to see just where, you know, time like actually changed and whatnot. It was amazing. I was blown away.

T: That's really cool that this project brought in that historical component, as well. What do you feel that that historical component kind of added to your experience in terms of your development in emergency management?

AT: I'll just say the history aspect brought a lot to emergency management because it showed me like how they did emergency management, well, how they did mitigation back in the day. So at the Rosenwald school, they were talking about how sometimes – well, a part of emergency management is education and they showed us you know where they had their classes at, you know, how they went through classes and whatnot. Especially at the Ocean City Community Center, how the place where Ocean City was built upon was actually used to be a World War II base, and how they used towers that used to be built, you know, they did it as training but then the community used it as early warning for hurricanes as well as anything that might be happening to the community, they would use those towers. I just thought that was really cool to see how back in the day they used to do, like even though they didn't call emergency management back in the day, how they did their version of emergency management.

T: That's really cool! And Aniya, did you, did any of the kind of historical components of the project resonate with you in particular?

AM: I think the Chicamacomico Life Saving Station was, resonated with me the most. So because it was basically like the grandfather of the Coast Guard. It was really interesting. There's a Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City and our school works really closely with the Coast Guard base. So it was really nice, like having the girl that I was going to the Coast Guard, us, the school having a good relationship with our local Coast Guard and just finding out how it started and stuff. And the story of, you gotta look into it, like the story of how the Coast Guard started was actually really interesting.

T: I'll have to look into that for sure! So maybe you've touched on this already, but what were your favorite things about the project or some of your favorite things about the project?

AM: For me personally, I loved – so we've gotten in the CERT team, we've gotten a lot of experiences to go get training. But with a lot of that training, it’s not very hands on. With this experience, we were able to be independent and be hands-on. We had a task, we had an agenda for the day, and every single day we, as a CERT team, the group that was there, we were able to do something independently, like not really get instructions, like work with ourselves. It was a great little mini fun exercise for us.

So I just really appreciated the trust that our professors had in us. The school like just trusted us enough to send us out here with Lenovo. It was actually a really good experience.

So I just think the bond I gained with the ladies who went with me and also just the freedom to be able to do our own project independently. I think that was the best part of the experience for me.

T: Yeah, it sounds so fantastic. And it totally resonates with my own experiences and my education and what I've tried to do with students I've worked with. Those are kind of intangible things, right? It's hard to measure, like the feeling of being trusted and building connections, but they're so important.

AM: Yes, I really, really agree.

T: And how about you, Angel? Oh, I can't hear you.

AT: My bad! I'll have to say the same. Yeah, just the bonds that you build in the CERT team. I already knew the group that I was going with prior to the Lenovo trip. But just being out there, and you know, bonding with them, on more of a closer level – because usually when we’re doing our outreaches, we’re in a hotel, you  know, we go from the class to hotel and sleep – but this time, it was sitting by the campfire by them, building that camaraderie, having an amazing driver (shout-out to Jeff, he’s a great guy!). Just building those bonds closer, and learning more about them.

As well as some of the cool random stops that we had, as well, like after the Rosenwald School, one of the guys drove us down and he was like, “Do you know this house?” And we were like, “I think I’ve seen this house before!” It was actually the house that used in the Conjuring, the movie series. Yeah, so that blew my mind! I was super, caught me off guard. So it was just, it was those little moments. And like, just the camaraderie in those little moments that made that whole trip, you know, worth it, even apart from the technology that Lenovo, you know, granted us.

T: Yeah, and I'd love to ask a little bit more about that from the tech side. Did you guys learn more specific applied technical skills or were these things you'd already learned before and it was just nice to have a chance to practice them?

AT: Yeah, so I would say with that, our group had two drone operators. I'm one of them. And, you know, it's great to have a drone, especially at Elizabeth City State University, but it's very hard since we're so close to an airport, you know, to really have the opportunity to, you know, do like types of shots that we want to do.

So with the freedom that Lenovo, you know, granted us, we were able to change up how we did stuff, try things that we never tried before, make pictures, videos that look fantastic, all thanks to them. Also, our driver also works in PR and he does a lot of great photos and seeing him taking photos that gave us the idea of like, okay, cool, this is how you take this type of photo, this is how you shoot that - and that was just a lot of great information that I never thought I was gonna be able to use with the group of people that I was with.

T: Really cool! And how about you, Aniya?

AM: Funnily enough, I think I have more of like applying the skills we learned in CERT to our Lenovo trip experience. Like in CERT, we're always learning how to do like camping and stuff.

Like we learn how to do tents all the time. We learn how to use sleeping bags, all that. And it was so funny because one of our ladies in the group wants to be a park ranger. So she's like really on top of it, knows all her stuff. It was so great seeing her take charge when we had to set up the camp. It was just so wonderful to see her just in her element. And I was completely out of my element. But it was great to be practicing!

I know our professors at home would have loved to just watch us struggle to put that camp site together the whole week. But it was a really nice experience. Like it, that was like one of the first things we did once we got there. And it was a great bonding experience.

It was a great way to like test your actual skills. Because again, it's different doing it at school where you might be setting up a tent inside a building because we normally do our meetings inside. And it's definitely different having to, like, put a tarp down, having it super duper windy.

I think on Day Two, my whole, by the time we got back to camp, my whole tent had like blew over somewhere else and we had to put it back down. Yeah, it was learned the hard way that we need to put the tent in a little bit stronger. But it was really nice having that experience taking those skills we learned in CERT and applying it to the real world.

T: I love that, and I think that relates to one of Lenovo's goals with this project to also increase access to nature in black communities, for example, who are underrepresented in, for example, people visiting national parks. So was this immersion, kind of the nature side of this, being outside and having to set up your own tents, did this help you feel like the great outdoors were more accessible to you? And what had been your kind of background of having access to nature growing up?

AT: I would definitely say that it brought more of the great outdoors to me. Usually when I go camping, it's with ROTC and it's under way worse circumstances. We don't even have a tent, just a sleeping bag. So just, you know, I love traveling, but I never really truly went camping before. So with this opportunity, it definitely showed me like, oh, wow, this is this can be fun sometimes. And it made me rethink a lot of the things that camping was, to what I now know what camping is, especially with the national parks. Like I said, I ain't never been to Morris Bridge Battlefield, and I love history, so pairing those two things together was just amazing to me. And it, yeah, it just brought it all together. And it definitely showed me like, hey, maybe you should do this more often. You know, especially with a tent.

T: Better with a tent! And how about you Aniya?

AM: So the camping was a very new experience for me. But I feel like now that I've done it, I can better talk about it with my peers. So if someone asked me like how camping is, I can at the very least give them some advice and give my honest review of it. I think that will kind of help encourage other black people to go camping, like it’s really word of mouth.

And also I did an internship last year with the NC State Parks, and we did a Juneteenth celebration because also part of the thing with that it was encouraging other black people to do trails, like get out in nature and stuff. So I got a little bit of experience with that. They had Black Women Who Walk there, which is an organization that like does trails and stuff.

So I kind of had that prior knowledge, but thankfully while doing this experience, so we were on the sea portion of the Mountains to Sea trail and we got to walk some of the trails. And fortunately, they asked us for feedback on some of the trails. So they're trying to extend Jockey's Ridge (State Park) and kind of build it up. And they were also considering putting part of the trail on the beach. We had to walk just a tiny portion of that beach trail, and we were like, yeah, they don't need to walk the beach part - like they already walked from the mountains all across North Carolina. They don't need that.

I appreciated that they at least let us give back feedback. We'll give them feedback so they can improve on what they have, which I think will also help encourage other people to participate in the trail.

T: That kind of user feedback is so important. You really have to pay attention to the people who you actually hope are going to be using this resource in the future.

AM: And like Lenovo also doing all this advertising, because they've been promoting us, like us and the school have been promoting us doing this trip all since we first started. Them using an HBCU specifically I think helps, like I can imagine a young black person seeing us, what we're doing, think, “Oh, I think I could do that” or “I've never even heard of the Mountain to Sea Trail. Let me go look into it!” So I think that does help encourage others.

T: That's fantastic having that kind of representation and yeah, having role models for younger generations to look up to. It sounds like it's been a great project, but I'm always really curious to find out, even if a project's really good, is there anything about it that you would have changed?

AT: Well, let me think. I guess just bringing it out to more students. You know, for my group, it was a group of, I believe it was five of us. Yeah, so it was a group of five of us. And it was a great time with that group, but maybe actually doing it more times in the year or, you know, one in winter, even though that's going to be extremely cold, or like maybe just adding more people to be able to have this experience, then they can share it out as well.

And just for a personal thing, if y'all whoever is the viewer is, if y'all do do this, make sure to have your rain shields on your tent. So y'all don't get y'all stuff wet like I did.

T: Good advice. I also - my family, we were immigrants and my parents didn't have a lot of leisure time, nor were they part of the “Great American” tradition of camping. So my first camping experience was a group thing as well, in Hawaii, and I had the cheapest little tent from Walmart. I learned that lesson the hard way – I needed a better rain fly.

AT: Oh, yeah.

T: And how about you Aniya? Is there anything you would change as amazing as your experience might have been?

AM: I agree with Angel - doing it more like throughout the year. So I will say Lenovo did really good at taking feedback. When we first heard about this experience a few months ago, we were all sitting in class and it was a Zoom call. And we got off the Zoom and we were kind of looking like, what in the world? Like, we just didn't have enough information and we just didn't know exactly what we're going to be doing.

We gave that feedback back to our professor. Our professor talked to Lenovo and arranged a lot more things, so we were able to really make the project what we wanted it. We told Lenovo, hey, we have these resources, like we have the drones, we have the students, we have as many students as you want. What exactly do we need to do?

And they were also gracious enough to let us do what we needed to do as well, like finish our finals and also get that research for our own project. So I feel like Lenovo is really great at taking feedback. And I'm hoping that that relationship they now have with our school allows, like Angel said, for us to have more trips throughout the year.

I don't know what North Carolina is going to do because this year was the year of the trail. So I'm excited to see what North Carolina does for next year. And I'm hoping that Lenovo partners up with us again so we can help with that.

T: Yeah, that's fantastic. That's really encouraging to hear because a lot of times these projects, they sound great. And, you know, they're just kind of shoved in your direction. And you’re just like, okay, this isn't exactly what we need, but I guess we'll go with it. It's really nice to hear that they were really adaptable to your feedback. I think that's so important.

So looking at a bit of a bigger picture, like what do you think other projects like this could do to continue improving representation in your field as well as access to nature. (Oh, looks like we lost Angel).

AM: I would like to see, because again, we live in North Carolina where hurricanes is a big thing. I would like to see us do more work of hurricanes. Hurricane season is coming up really, really quickly. So I would like to see us, like, if Lenovo wants to, like, right before a big storm comes, see if we can take data before and after, because our school is really big on looking into flooding.

So maybe just taking the technology, taking the things that we learned and really looking into flooding on the North Carolina coast. Because, one thing: so Dr. Dorothy Henderson-Bell is our professor. She used to work in Raleigh under Recovery, so she works a lot with flooding in North Carolina, specifically on the coast. And honestly, rising sea levels is eating away our coast and if we don't start looking into it now, we're not going to have any beaches to go to in a few years. So I think it's really important that, like, we are here on the coast of North Carolina, it's really important that we start looking into that now.

So I would love to see if Lenovo, like, really looked into it, like try to see if we can go out there, do some research, try to make a difference, and try to get those people on the coast, like in a safer environment, or just find ways to mitigate any damages hurricanes do in the future.

T: It's like taking the model of what you did with this project, this Work for Humankind project this year, and giving you guys a chance to have a more sustained, focused project over a bit of a longer term and to build skills and relationships in that way. I love it. And how about you, Angel? I don't know if you caught the question.

AT: I caught half of it and then my computer did something weird.

T: That's okay, it happens! What do you think that projects like this and others looking to the future, what could they do to continue improving representation in environmental work or emergency management and in improving representation in access to nature?

AT: Yeah, I mean, I think Lenovo is doing a great job, you know, right now, partnering up with an HBCU as well as partnering up with a large HBCU Instagram, HBCU Nation, actually giving our PSAs to them so they can bring it to their, their large community that harnesses a lot HBCUs.

I think honestly, the next step in this is probably just expansion. This was a great starting point.

Probably doing more - well we already did the Mountain to Sea trail - but how about doing more in specific areas? Like there's a lot more history in the hills, as they say, there's a lot more history in the hills, so you know harnessing that with not just our HBCU but with other HBCUs around the Carolinas. You know, really being like, hey, we have this history, we have this historic site right here, it's only like 13 minutes away from your school - how about we do a micro-trip with y'all, you know, explain or partner different HBCUs up together and they can all take this trip, just expansions with HBCU unity, and just making it the best thing for a lot more people.

I think they're doing a great job, as is.

T: Yeah, and it sounds like a great thing to scale up to more of these institutions, for sure. We haven't really touched here directly on the idea of environmental justice, although I'm sure it's something that's come up in both of your studies and your own experiences. I'd love to hear each of you say something about how you think environmental justice kind of ties in with your work in emergency management.

AM: Can you expand on what you mean?

T: Sure! Sorry, I sprung that one on you guys. Environmental justice is the idea that environmental impacts impact different populations in unequal ways, right? So like here in San Diego, the poorest populations – some of the the most diverse populations, primarily with people of color – are where all the high polluting activities go, where all the highly polluting trucks go, where the cargo ships are, where a major bridge was built over. And we see this a lot in natural disasters: people who are in the more high risk areas tend to be marginalized communities.

So that kind of inequality, that social justice aspect of who's more vulnerable to risk when it comes to natural disasters, for example. Is that something that you all have been looking at through your major? Like how does that interact with who needs the most help in times of emergency.

AM: So we look at that all the time. I just had to write a paper on vulnerable groups for one of my emergency management classes. I think that's something that we definitely are always looking into. And like, again, I keep going back to the flooding. So our city is in a really bad flood zone. A lot of the residential areas are within a hundred year flood zone.

So this year and last year, I did an internship with the Pasquotank County Planning and Inspection Department. And I worked in GIS, which is Geographical Information Systems, I believe. So we actually, especially last year, all I did all day long was look at residential areas and basically tag if they were in flood zones or not. And then all the places that are in 100 year flood zones, they kind of have to be notified so that we can start moving those, eventually moving those people out of those places.

But yeah, I think that's definitely something, at least in our little nook of North Carolina, where I'm looking into, we're always constantly talking about in class about vulnerable groups, where there be people who are of lower socioeconomic classes. I believe I did my project, my paper was on families with young children, because you kind of treat young children differently during disaster, they have a different reaction. A lot of people think of them as mini adults, when they really react to disasters quite differently than we would expect. So that was what my paper was on for last semester.

And we just look at all those groups and we just try to figure, a lot of emergency management is planning, thankfully. So you just have to plan for those kind of things before. But if you talk to those communities, have bonds with those communities, like really interact, you kind of know before disaster hits, like who you're looking out for.

T: Yeah, so having that, those strong community ties is going to be really important then. And Angel, I don't know, has this come up in your work at all, looking at how different groups of people might be at different levels of risk?

AT: Yes, it has. So Aniya and I have taken a number of classes together, and with that vulnerable group thing that we did, it’s a lot of planning forward on who can be affected, especially on the coastline where we are, spreading up and down. I believe that there was one discussion board that we did, that it was literally an island that, when it does flood, they’re all submerged. So it’s always about how do we get to them first. It’s definitely about who gets help first, and then who gets the residual after that when it comes to the vulnerable groups. But the great thing about emergency management is there’s a lot of factors that go into who gets the funding, who gets the aid that they need first and who gets it prior to the disaster happening, so we never leave anyone out.

T: I have to learn more about emergency management, it sounds like a fascinating field.

AT: Oh, it’s great!

T: So my last question is, what would your top piece of advice be for other young folks interested in going into emergency management or any kind of related environmental field?

AT: I would say, my little bit of information that I can give is, you know, be open, don't write it off as, oh, it's just another STEM major, you know, I can get the same thing at another institution. No, honestly, look into it, because everything from major league sporting games to hurricane disasters have emergency managers in the field. So, I would just say don’t count it out, definitely get some information and be open. We don’t get these opportunities with Lenovo

and other great companies by, you know, being like, “ohh, I don't know about this!”  You know, definitely, definitely be open, be willing to get information, because, you know, sometimes it will lead you to the best week of your life, you know, great way to start off summer vacation.

T: Fabulous. That's a great, that's a great piece of advice. And nice feedback for Lenovo, too!

AM: In emergency management, we talk a lot about risk reduction and risk mitigation. I would say this is one risk that go ahead and take it! It was right before school started, be like, I'm not going to be a bio major anymore, I'm going to choose a major I've never even heard of.

And it was well worth it. Whenever I talk to people about my major, they just kind of like count it off as just whatever, and then they see I'm always on a trip, then they see I'm always on training, then they see opportunities like this, and everyone gets really, really interested.

I think the number one thing about emergency management, it's all about learning. I'm constantly learning something new every day. It's a really, really broad field. Like Angel said, you could be in sports and be emergency management. You could be in natural disaster emergency management. You could be in anti-terrorism. Any big corporation, any big business, like your school has an emergency manager. Like any big tech - Lenovo has an emergency manager officer somewhere, they might not call it that, but they have someone who deals with all their vulnerabilities in the company somewhere.

So I think it's really broad. You can kind of get into any little niche you want to, and you can combine more than one interest, like again with the sports. You, a big NFL fan, you might want to go be their emergency manager. You might want to like be in charge of their games and stuff or the Super Bowl.

So I definitely think it's something to look into. I really recommend it for people who enjoy learning, enjoy like constantly like building on your career and building on your skill sets. And a lot of the skills that we learn are applicable to other areas of our life. Like we can take the skill, like even like the tent and stuff. I didn't think we were going to be camping anytime soon, and then here comes Lenovo saying “We're going to put you in a tent in campgrounds for a week!” So I think it's a lot of skills that you learn that you can just use for more than one part of your life. I do love that about emergency management. I'm always on my toes, always learning, and there's a lot of different spaces I can go into.

T: That's fantastic! You are both great salespeople for emergency management. And I really love what I'm hearing from you guys. You're kind of touching on things that I’ve always thought were missing – [scuffling sounds] I’m sorry, this cat is really out of control, STOP IT! (We love the cat! It’s adorable!) – but one of my big problems with a lot of more traditional majors is that they’re so removed from what happens in reality, and students – I think – I think students want that practical application. They want to be in the field. They want to see how what they're learning can actually be put towards something valuable. I really think actually a lot of different fields could learn from emergency management. So I'm actually for real going to look more into it because I've already learned a lot talking to you guys.

And I also applaud you both for picking such a major that is clearly of value to to communities.

That's really something that I admire. So I wish you both a lot of luck with your continued studies and your work in the field.

AT: Thank you.

AM: Thank you and I appreciate it.

T: Well, thank you both for your time. I'm sure you're busy as students. And thank you, Jamie, for organizing and everyone else for being backup. But yeah, I enjoyed learning about the Lenovo project. Have a good one.

AT, AM: Thank you for having us too. Appreciate it!

Conservation Realist
Conservation Realist Podcast
Realities in Environmental Conservation - Newsletter & Podcast by Dr. Tara Sayuri Whitty. Featuring diverse voices & meaningful, pragmatic ideas for actually making a difference.