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Alumni Stories

Foresight Prep alumni share their own stories about how the program transformed their relationship to leadership, themselves and their future as changemakers. 

Miraf Kebede

Brooklyn Center, MN
The Future of Business, 2015

Foresight Prep @ Oberlin was full of moments that changed my perspective on sustainability. One that comes to mind was visiting one of America’s only urban vineyards, an experience which enabled me to truly understand the interrelatedness of social, ecological and economic concerns, and my own role in creating change. 

The Vineyards of Chateau Hough is located minutes from downtown Cleveland, in an impoverished, primarily African American neighborhood. The vineyard's founder Mansfield Frazier, a 70-year old ex-convict, explained to us how his efforts have transformed both his life, and the surrounding community. He employs formerly incarcerated residents from the nearby halfway house, and educates them on the benefits of urban agriculture and entrepreneurship. 

Communities that are primarily black and Latino potentially have the most to gain from implementing more sustainable practices—Frazier’s community, once known for violence, high incarceration rates and poverty, is slowly but surely improving. Meeting Mansfield, my scope of interests widened to include environmentalism, a movement I once associated with the privileged.

Since participating in the program, I have taken a more active role in my school’s sustainability club. I’ve also begun implementing more sustainable practices in my daily life, while encouraging others to do the same. The Foresight Prep faculty fostered a uniquely inclusive community, and continue to help and encourage us to stay in contact with one another. I retain a network of peers, mentors and good friends that I can (and do) call upon, whether separated by neighborhoods, state line, or oceans.

Without the scholarship support I received, I could not have gained these insights and relationships. All students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, should have access to such transformative experiences. 

Ari Kim

Falls Church, VA
Haverford College Class of 2020
The Future of Essential Resources, 2015

Though I've always experienced anxiety when interacting with others, after participating in Foresight Prep @ Oberlin, I am no longer afraid to openly voice my ideas about urgent environmental and social issues, and to speak with diverse stakeholders—including those who hold positions and titles I once considered intimidating.

I was privileged to work with many driven, creative, and intelligent individuals—most of whom I still communicate with regularly—to develop an idea for a comprehensive, staggered regional tax structure to promote sustainable development in inner-city Cleveland. Given my past introversion, I couldn’t imagine sharing this project in front of a large audience, but my teammates and the Foresight Prep faculty emboldened me to speak out. Our presentation was met with applause, and one Oberlin community leader told us, "I can't wait for you all to run for office one day."

I’ve brought my newfound confidence into my life back home. This past October, I visited City Hall to advocate for the installation of solar panels on the roof of my high school, and was successful. After attending Foresight Prep, I realize how crucial sustainability is to the entire global community, and I now aspire to study environmental policy in college. I am grateful for the program sparking this passion.

As a low-income, prospective first generation college student of color, I could never have imagined attending a summer session at a college several hundred miles from home—I simply did not have the resources.  Initially daunted by the cost of attending Foresight Prep, I immediately submitted my application when I realized scholarship funds were available. Had I not received such generous aid, I would not be where I am today. 

Gina Ridenour

Cleveland, OH
School of Science and Medicine at John Hay High School, Class of 2018
The Future of Food, 2015
The Power of Cities, 2016
The Power of Movements, 2017

I’ve always been passionate about learning, and am never one to sit passively when I could be acquiring new knowledge and experiences. So when I saw that a sustainability-related course for high school students was being offered at Oberlin College, even though I was unfamiliar with the topic, I said “sign me up!”

As a student in Foresight Prep’s Future of Food course, I learned about the many components of our food system, from cultivation and harvest through distribution, and about the entities creating both positive and negative impact, from grassroots organizations and urban gardens, to food corporations and factories. I instantly found myself at home, working with one of the greatest groups of people I have ever met on projects to uplift and improve the world, making it a more sustainable place to live.

Most 15 year-old girls from inner city Cleveland don’t know the meaning of the word sustainability. —I know I definitely didn’t. But now I’m actively searching for, and connecting with, sustainability efforts within my community and beyond. I recently attended the Sustainable Cleveland Year of Water summit, a large-scale, citywide gathering of professionals and residents, and was inspired by the work being done in my hometown, including many projects I was previously unaware of. I’m also beginning to speak out with greater confidence about issues that affect my school community. Participating in this amazing program has put on me on the track to success. 

Clarissa Itzel Villegas Smith

Phoenix, AZ
Carleton College Class of 2019
Foresight Leadership and Sustainability Initiative, 2014

Before I participated in Foresight Prep @ Oberlin's inaugural session in 2014, I thought sustainability was just about the environment. But I left understanding that it’s about people and communities as well, and was able to see for the first time how individuals from very different backgrounds—myself included—can bring their expertise to bear on shared challenges.

One experience that stands out was our field trip day in Cleveland. In the course of a single day, I met Jenita McGowan, the City’s Chief of Sustainability, and toured an urban vineyard in a poor African American community. Jenita described the policies and programs she was implementing— It was my first time interacting with a government official, and it was eye opening to realize she cared about the same issues I did. Later, the vineyard’s founder Mansfield Frazier, an ex-convict turned social entrepreneur, inspired me with his commitment to empowering the surrounding community. Both individuals stood out as leaders I want to emulate in the future. Perhaps more importantly, the contrast between them helped me understand that sustainability issues must be addressed at multiple scales.

After returning home, I applied what I’d learned within my own community, first as an intern in the City of Phoenix’s Office of Environmental Programs, and later in the newly-created position of Sustainability Officer in my school’s student government. Thanks to Foresight Prep, I was equipped to succeed in these roles—whether brokering a relationship between the city and my classmates to solve a school transportation issue, or contributing to my co-workers undertakings at my internship. But I discovered the most important thing I’d learned was communication and networking skills, which helped me forge connections without fear. I wrote my college application essay about my experiences at Foresight Prep, and received a full scholarship to Carleton College.

As a young, Mexican-American woman raised in the Southwest, I do not see many leaders with my background who are explicitly dedicated to sustainability. Leaders must rise up from within communities, so that change-making efforts are implemented with a fuller understanding of the populations they impact. With support from Foresight Prep @ Oberlin, I am on my path toward realizing my own leadership potential.  

Join our next cohort of inspiring young people—apply now!

Interested in helping build the next generation of leaders? The scholarships that enabled these students to benefit from Foresight Prep @ Oberlin were made possible in part by donations from individuals. Learn more about how you can invest in our future.