Photo Credit: Bryan Schutmaat National Geographic. 2016. Food waste at Rio Rico Landfill is Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

The Earth is dying. Humans and their actions are having devastating effects on the world and its temperature. Experts keep telling us over and over again about how we must limit the warming by 1.5ºC; however, little actions are being taken to accomplish this goal. We continue to think that we can stand our days being a bit hotter but we do not understand that the one who can't handle them, is our home.

The Arizona Institutes for Resilience (AIR) at the University of Arizona understands the urgency of the situation we currently live in and believe in the power of their students and the youth to be active assets in addressing these issues. For those reasons, they have developed a brand new program called The Earth Grant. This project launched in the Fall of 2021 and it’s inspired by models of programs such as the NASA Space Grant and NOAA Sea Grant. This project is a year-long paid internship in which a diverse group of UArizona students from different backgrounds and fields get matched with a mentor working in an environmental and community resilience field that interests them, combined with a leadership, professional, and personal skills development course. The mission of the program is to “support emerging environmental and community resilience leaders across sectors” and they expect that by the end of the program the students have contributed to decrease the negative impact that climate change and environmental problems are having in the world and to improve the life of the communities directly affected by their projects.

The 2021-2022 Earth Grant Students

To get to know more about the Earth Grant recipients for this academic year, visit: .

Stephanie Bermudez, the founder of Startup Unidos, was chosen by the Arizona Institutes for Resilience: Solutions for the Environment and Society (AIR) at the University of Arizona to be a mentor of this program. Startup Unidos’ main mission is to build programs, events and content around growth and empowerment for a better binational future across the border. One of their very well known and impactful projects is Waste Not: Borderlands Innovation in Food Waste Management. Waste Not is a food waste management program along the border area of Nogales Arizona and Sonora. It kicked off in June of 2019, and it has been a youth lead project, generating opportunities and developing the educational, entrepreneurial, and leadership skills of the members as they develop creative solutions to the problem faced. This program is planned to go beyond just food waste, the goal is to be able to work and develop solutions for other types of waste, such as water, e-waste, agricultural bi-products, and so on. This last November of 2021, a new chapter of Waste Not started, the development of a Borderlands Waste Innovation Incubator. This new branch of the program covers cross-border, culturally relevant problems from an entrepreneurial perspective based on sustainability. This program invites the youth from our borderlands to face new challenges within their communities, by engaging in activities such as hands-on workshops, certifications, research programs, entrepreneurial and sustainability education, and networking.

Both programs, the Startup Unidos waste themed incubator and The Earth Grant, create opportunities for youth to see themselves as problem solvers in their own community. Throughout, they learn the importance of having a network, ethical practices of community engagement, and technical knowledge. As well, both organizations create spaces where underrepresented people can grow, learn, and become better versions of themselves. Additionally, they firmly believe that greater diversity produces better working environments and ideas, which make the solutions developed the best and most equipped ones to solve the problems faced. For those reasons, the student selected to intern with Startup Unidos was a perfect match. Samantha Mata Robles is a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Samantha experienced early in her life how members from the marginalized communities in Hermosillo, Sonora, were struggling for adequate access to health care, driving her passion for sustainable and equitable health systems. Samantha further gained interest in women’s empowerment in STEM through previous work with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), and gained entrepreneurship skills through volunteer work with local community organizations FOCUS and Tec de Monterrey. After graduation, Samantha plans to pursue graduate school and a career in low-cost, sustainable solutions for communities in poverty to have greater agency and access in health decision making.

This year is one filled with projects, ideas, new challenges and partnerships. Everyone that’s part of this organization truly believes in the power and impact of our programs and the youth; we believe that by providing the youth with these opportunities and support systems, they’ll be more prepared to generate the changes our world desperately needs. As Nelson Mandela once said, Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Additional Resources

Earth Grant's

Samantha's LinkedIn