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Roots Deep in Environmentalism

By Cameron Vernali '20

Published Dec 3, 2018 4:00 PM

Senior Valeree Catangay is doing more than sparking conversation about the environment — she's creating action on and off campus.


Senior Valeree Catangay prepares to install native plants at Sage Hill with her Sustainibility Action Research student group. Courtesy of Valeree Catangay.

Care for the environment is needed now more than ever, and UCLA senior Valeree Catangay knows that. Her innate passion has led to her upcoming bachelor of arts in Environmental Science. Underlying her achievements and national awards is a desire to raise awareness of the state of the environment and to get as many people as possible involved in protecting it.

On campus, Catangay creates conversations about the environment when there isn’t always a platform for the topic. Earlier this year, she co-founded the Environmentalists of Color Collective with another UCLA student. That group provides a space in which students can talk about subjects such as environmental racism and diversity in environmentalism. The group also works with UCLA climate professor Aradhna Tripati and her Center for Diverse Leadership in Science.

“That wasn’t previously present at UCLA,” Catangay says. “Just having those dialogues can make an impact on students.”

When Catangay grew up in Long Beach, she saw how environmental issues had an especially negative effect on the city’s residents. In fact, Long Beach’s air quality is the fourth poorest in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. Catangay herself suffered from asthma and other respiratory problems as a child living near oil rigs. Seeing how environmental issues personally affect people — including people of color like herself — propels her passion for inclusion within environmental science.

Although Catangay is young, you can’t tell that from the work she has done so far. She recently received a Brower Youth Award, one of six given each year to “outstanding youth leaders who are making strides in the environmental movement” from across the United States, according to the award website. She also received a UC Carbon Neutrality Fellow, which focuses on the initiative to make all UC campuses carbon-neutral by 2025.

In September, Catangay was of 200 young environmentalists invited to join top climate policymakers, researchers, activists and business leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. There, she won a #YouthStepUp award as a representative of the California Allegory Youth Fellowship.

While the current state of environmental issues may appear grim, Catangay is optimistic and passionate about change in the future.

“What gives me hope is young people,” Catangay says. “I know I have an impact on (my little brother and sister) and their perspective on the environment. They see how much I care about it.”

To read more on this story, please visit https://ucla.in/2Jh3URl.