Foresight Prep alumni share their own stories about how the program transformed their relationship to leadership, themselves and their future as changemakers.
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.
Falls Church, VA
Haverford College Class of 2020
The Future of Essential Resources, 2015
Foresight Prep @ Oberlin opened my eyes to the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability. I didn’t understand how connected the environment is to politics, economics, and sociocultural movements until I learned about sustainable development in cities. The Prep classes, field trips, and speakers not only taught me a tremendous amount about systems and integration of sustainable practices, but also showed me how to organize and that young people have as much potential as professionals to initiate change.
Utilizing the knowledge and inspiration I’ve gained from Foresight Prep, I have since adopted more sustainable practices in my life, as well as working on various projects at home and at Haverford College. I am in the midst of developing a campus free store that accepts unwanted clothing, school supplies, and furniture in an effort to reduce waste and provide low-income students with otherwise costly resources. I have also started community action groups to lobby against megacorporations such as Monsanto that degrade the environment with unsustainable agriculture models and exploit poor farmers in underdeveloped regions.
I still remember the many laughs and moments of awe I shared with my cohort. Foresight Prep has given me some of my closest friends and a network that continuously supports me. What I appreciate most about the program is its drive to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, giving them the resources and a platform to instigate change in their communities. All students should be able to have access to educational programs as transformative and enriching as Foresight Prep @ Oberlin.
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
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.
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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.