Yale alumna addresses barriers Latino communities face in the environmental field

March 20, 2017

By combining two of her majors, Geology & Geophysics and Spanish, a recent Yale graduate is working to address the barriers that underrepresented groups face in the environmental field. Ivette López (TC ’16), the Urban Wildlife Refuge Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, is creating resources and programming that provide greater opportunities for Latino communities at Yale and in New Haven to connect with nature.

The summer after graduating from Yale, López began working for the USFWS New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. Through community-based wildlife conservation, the partnership creates a network of wildlife-friendly habitats, throughout the New Haven Harbor Watershed. The partnership incorporates various local organizations including the Yale Urban Resources Initiative and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. USFWS staff from the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, assist and advise López in her work.

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Stationed at the Peabody, López has taken up projects that help connect Latino communities to the museum’s resources. This work comes from her own passion for wildlife conservation. “We need to protect our earth,” she says. “There’s only one.”

The Peabody provides lessons on a variety of topics for visiting school groups. Last fall, after a school reached out to the museum that a group of students preferred to speak in Spanish, López prepared and taught an hour-long bilingual lesson on Connecticut’s wildlife and ecology. “The students appreciated the fact that they didn’t feel left out,” she says.

Since then, other schools have reached out to López and brought groups of students, including English language learners, to participate in the bilingual lessons.

Additionally, the Peabody is translating its audio tour to Spanish. López is currently working on the first draft of translated text. The museum hopes to have a Spanish audio tour for all the museum’s permanent exhibits this summer.

“These projects are about inclusion and reaching underrepresented communities,” López says.

Yale’s La Casa Cultural: The Latino Cultural Center

López is also partnering with La Casa Cultural, the Latino Cultural Center at Yale, to involve students with nature and the efforts of the USFWS. Through a meeting with Maclovia Quintana, the Assistant Director of La Casa Cultural, she established two opportunities to connect with students: careers and a pollinator garden.

The career workshop was meant to give students a head start in the job search by introducing them to career possibilities with USFWS. It is also aimed to expose Latino students to work they could do in the environmental field. “The refuge is a place for everyone; you don’t have to major in the sciences,” López says. “You can do administrative work, work with people, or with wildlife.”

The first career workshop took place at the start of March. The USFWS regional recruiter for the Northeast, came to discuss opportunities with the students. According to López, the workshop was a success. All the participants that attended were engaged and cared about the topic.

“The regional recruiter, Amanda Wise, was great,” López adds. “She stayed until 8 p.m. when the workshop only went from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., answering all of the students’ questions.”

López is also assisting in the construction of a pollinator garden - landscaping that has flowers that provide nectar and pollen for a wide range of pollinating insects - outside of the La Casa Cultural center. The garden will include specific aspects to ensure it is pollinator-friendly like native flowers and plants, but the specific design is being created by students.

“We want to make sure this is the students’ project, that they are stewards and/or leaders of this new initiative,” López says, adding that she has already seen many great designs for the garden.

The native plant and pollinator garden is provided by the USFWS in partnership with La Casa Cultural, and Yale Landscaping and Grounds.

López adds, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will bring the plants, and students will provide the energy.”

The planting is planned for Thursday, April 13, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. All Yale undergraduates are welcome to help plant for any duration of the installation day. The event will also have rock painting, art, and food.

An educational sign near the garden will provide information on the project. López hopes this effort will inspire other cultural centers at Yale to get involved.

Much of this work is focused on connecting communities to nature in the urban environment, outside of the refuge. This summer, López will bring youth and families from organizations throughout New Haven to the Outer Island Unit of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge to provide them with a meaningful experience at their local refuge and the outdoors. She hopes to bring similar opportunities to the Yale community.

Yale is committed to building a more sustainable world. By doing what we do best—integrating science, the humanities, and our community—Yale creates, tests and adopts innovative solutions to the environmental and social challenges we all face.