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Q&A with Adrienne Hampton: Future Earth’s inaugural Global Sustainability Scholars Fellow

This summer, Future Earth hosted its first fellow in partnership with Global Sustainability Scholars, based out of the Sustainability Innovation Lab at Colorado, which also houses the Colorado Hub of Future Earth.


Global Sustainability Scholars aims to provide professional experiences and grow professional networks for underrepresented scholars and young professionals in sustainability. Their mission is to foster a professional development of a new generation of scientists, who represent the diversity of today's society in transdisciplinary sustainability science and innovation.


Adrienne Hampton came to Future Earth and Global Sustainability Scholars from the Environmental Policy and Management Program at the Evans School of Public Policy, University of Washington Seattle, where she will complete her master’s degree in 2019. In Hampton’s words, the program is designed to lend the tools and interdisciplinary perspectives necessary to be leaders in public, nonprofit, and private organizations that explore a broad spectrum of environmental and natural resource issues. Previously, Hampton served in positions focused on equitable framework for sustainability programs and research, data collection and management for ESA listed species, as well as change management initiatives. Her future plans include working towards equitable outcomes at the nexus of sustainability research and possibly pursuing a doctorate degree.


We followed up with Hampton after her time with Future Earth to learn more about how this experience has complemented and enhanced her graduate and future career in change making.


Credit: Adrienne Hampton


Future Earth: What led to you get involved with Global Sustainability Scholars and Future Earth?


Adrienne Hampton: The current state of racial diversity within the mainstream United States environmental movement is behind in hiring professionals of color into NGOs, governmental agencies, and foundations. I seek to break this trend while accelerating my career path in sustainability science. The Global Sustainability Scholars program works to build diverse leadership for inclusive work spaces and other professional areas. GSS and Future Earth strive to bring together cross-cultural difference to inspire change development towards the great global systemic challenges the globe faces today. The GSS program is ground breaking as it fosters individual identity, creates a community of scholars striving for the same equitable impacts, and elevates professional skills needed to interact with leading scientists working on critical sustainability challenges. I was encouraged to apply for the GSS fellows by a long-time mentor who believes in my ability to break the green ceiling.


FE: What were the main projects you were involved with or worked on during your time as a GSS Fellow?


AH: During my time as a GSS Fellow I was given the responsibility to participate on a series of collaborative convenings, including a charrette in conjunction with the Belmont Forum on supporting and evaluating research to action for ocean sustainability, ocean sustainability synthesis work with NCEAS and the PEGASuS program, and a Future Earth research summit held in Bonn, Germany. In all cases, the workflow focused on bringing together a broad, international set of researchers, societal partners, communicators and funders to explore and deepen the impact of international, transdisciplinary sustainability research. It was incredible experience which I had never had access to, especially in regard to the opportunity to travel outside of the United States and gain perspective on how other cultures approach sustainability research (wow).


FE: What were your favorite or most fulfilling experiences during this fellowship?


AH: I felt a great sense of workplace inclusion throughout this summer. Future Earth and GSS cultivated a culture of fairness which allowed me to feel welcome to contribute my fullest potential.  


There is SO much robust knowledge action happening around the world which I had little to no idea about!  A true sustainability research community exists and it is rigorous in its approach! It felt most amazing to know I was also a member of this community and I deeply champion the work happening to improve the state of the planet. Before this experience, I had felt like I was “working to be included” when really I was contributing to activities all along. This realization, working with GSS and Future Earth, was invigorating and gave me a great sense of optimism in my capacities moving forward in the field of sustainability. SO much of the time in the United States, my peers feel as though great innovations to combat unsustainable processes are out of reach in the face of institutional barriers, yet the GSS experience and the FE community proved to me this is not the case and the work is happening and I am a part of such collaboration. I was inspired by the array of expertise within Global Research Projects and Knowledge-Action Networks. With this knowledge, I am able to bring up my experiences with GSS and Future Earth and therefore state the global policy process is making great strides and that science is being put into action more than we may realize in the United States.  


FE: What was one of the most challenging aspects of working with Future Earth as a GSS Fellow?


AH: The issues are really hard to navigate and require multiple approaches which can seem very intimidating to a young professional in a room of people with PhDs!


The creation of shared vision for a more sustainable world while notable voices are not present in the room. Such “imposter” feeling was quite tricky to navigate- how can I be sure in my set of identities that my vision for a changed world will relate to another regional with a far different set of values.


The noticeable missing parts – for example: indigenous knowledge at the forefront of confronting issues of sustainability.


FE: Were there assumptions you had about this field of work that were either challenged or confirmed during this experience?


AH: My graduate program puts a great emphasis on communicating visions not just within an organization or agencies, yet out to the public in order to inspire behavior shits and real change in social attitudes for institution change. I was operating under the assumption which this was essentially “easy” to do given the right set of influencers and budget, yet providing platforms for continued engagement and collaborations for a thriving network is potentially more rewarding than reaching quick resolutions.


The traditional structures which I am taught in a public administration graduate program work for all levels of organization. Complex issues of sustainability actually require flexible thought leadership and potentially non traditional organizational structures to support the needs of its community. Such frameworks must take into account multiple approaches to encourage innovative advancements of a transdisciplinary nature.


I had no idea how a secretariat functioned structurally and my assumption was FE would look familiar to other organizational cultures I have previously been in, yet the secretatist worked across cognitive, normative, and executive levels, therefore I learned FE works within global outputs, outcome, and impacts synergistically.


FE: What are you most excited to take forward with you from this fellowship experience as a professional? More personally?


AH: Affecting real change for equitable and sustainable global outcomes! This experience was the first professional window to collaborate with such a robust cross-cultural set of professional actors. To be an effective leader in public service within the U.S. requires experience in interdisciplinary work spaces where answers are not always obvious, easy, or immediate therefore knowing how to facilitate collaboration is critical. Having the opportunity to launch myself out of my home environment on four different occasions was incredible. I felt as though I was able to escape many of the burdens I feel in America as a person of color in the field, set it aside for just a moment and get to be at the front lines of very meaningful work. In this way, the Fellowship shifted my lifestyle and perspective of both at home and abroad ecosystems of change.