Cora Ellenson-Myers: Clean Water Campaign organizer
This article was originally published by Kristen Peterson, guest blogger, under the title “Change Agent Profile: Cora Ellenson-Myers”.
Cora Ellenson-Myers is a Clean Water Campaign organizer with Environment Minnesota. She is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities’ Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management program, after which she transitioned directly into her campaign work. I sat down to talk with her about her motivation, her work, and her future goals to protect the environment and make sustainable change.
When established members of the nonprofit community reflect back upon their lives, it’s easy to see how events transpired to create their success. The Twin Cities community is home to many of these successful, inspiring leaders who work on sustainability issues every day. Their paths often seem very clear in hindsight, as if they knew exactly what they wanted to do all along. However, in reality most lives and careers do not unfold so predictably. In order to better understand how young sustainability leaders begin their careers, I decided to interview a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. I wanted to find out how someone who is hoping to use her education to lead sustainable change in the world views her next steps in terms of her career and future.
After a short search, I found that Cora Ellenson-Myers fit the bill perfectly. In the grand scheme of life, she is only beginning her career journey, but she is already leading communities and working toward sustainability goals. As I interviewed Cora in the kitchen of her sunny apartment, I found that I had plenty of questions to ask her.
I first wanted to know how Cora impacts environmental issues on a day-to-day basis. As a campaign organizer for Environment Minnesota, Cora spends most of her time working to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act in order to ensure that our water supply is clean and usable for people and wildlife alike. Cora works on these issues primarily by planning events, communicating with the media, building coalitions, training interns, and using social media to gain support for clean water issues. She feels that some of her most valuable efforts include working with coalitions because she has been able to make real change alongside professionals in the water quality field this way. Cora also feels effective and empowered when she can directly impact elected officials, small businesses, and nonprofits. She enjoys helping these people get involved with clean water issues by joining coalitions or attending events. Perhaps most impressively, she plans events that connect Minnesota state Senators, Representatives, experts, stakeholders, and citizens to discuss and educate about water quality issues in our communities.
With all of this going on in Cora’s career, I started to wonder what originally motivated her to work on environmental issues. Cora says that she attributes much of her current motivation to the ways she was influenced during her younger years. As a child, she was strongly affected by her parents and stepparents, who were all in “helping professions” like nursing and nonprofit work. Today, Cora plans to pursue a“helping profession” of her own by helping the environment: what she believes is the “most important challenge our generation faces.” Cora also remembers being politically active with her family from a young age, doing activities like going along with her parents to vote and volunteering for campaigns. In addition, she remembers a specific “aha” moment during her high school biology class. When a group project led her to pursue in-depth research about deforestation in tropical rainforests, Cora vividly recalls feeling “outraged” and “frustrated,” wanting to immediately take some sort of action on the problem. Although the clean water issues Cora currently works on in Minnesota may seem rather unrelated to rainforest deforestation, this story shows how Cora’s passion for environmental issues translates into such effective action in her day-to-day work. Cora succinctly describes in her own words what drives her to make environmental change: “A sense of outrage, responsibility, and knowledge that what I’m doing is meaningful and necessary.”
Although Cora is very involved in her current work, she readily admits that she isn’t sure how she plans to work on environmental change in the future. Cora believes that clean water issues are very important, but she also prioritizes climate change as a top environmental issue. Cora is open-minded about the future and says that in ten years she could see herself “directing a nonprofit, being the communications director for an organization, or doing political advocacy.”
For undergraduates trying to discern which career path to pursue, Cora recommends volunteering as an excellent way to explore one’s interests and find out what kinds of roles are available in various organizations. Cora emphasizes that volunteering can be just as helpful as an official internship, and she attributes much of her own growth during her time at the University of Minnesota to volunteer experiences.
After talking with Cora about her work and her goals, I have a clearer picture of how a motivated young person can transition step-by-step into an effective leadership role. It’s clear that Cora is already making an important difference in our community, so who knows where her journey will take her next? We will just have to wait and see… or better yet, we can speed up the process by pitching in and working on environmental change along with her.