Smithies in Action: Advocating for the Youth Climate Movement

This past interterm, Emma Ryan ’23J, Ashley Rivas ’22, Dominique Kelly ’22 and Phoebe Lease ’21 worked together as Praxis interns to build the knowledge framework of Future Coalition, a leading youth climate advocacy organization. The students researched financial institutions, including the Federal Reserve, to better understand how these entities perpetuate the global climate crisis. Their academic backgrounds of economics, geoscience, and environmental science and policy informed their research.

Future Coalition is a supportive network that provides resources for climate justice organizations that do on-the-ground work. Their parent organization, MarchOn, is a nonprofit coalition of women-led and grassroots political activist groups that grew out of the women’s marches in 2017. Future Coalition is one of MarchOn’s many initiatives to bring young people into the political process. This year the initiative has focused on climate finance—a powerful yet often overlooked tool of the climate justice movement. 

Before Future Coalition could kick off its public campaign, they needed to ensure that they had the knowledge and resources to fully understand the complexity of climate finance. That’s where Emma, Ashley and Dominique came in. 

“Future Coalition brought us in to be in charge of researching the different elements of climate finance in-depth,” Ashley explained. “Our research consisted of reviewing papers, videos, articles, hosting interviews and mapping data.” 

The interns presented their findings to Future Coalition members through weekly presentations. The presentations condensed complex information to make it understandable and accessible to all members, regardless of their professional background. This enabled Future Coalition to share and build actions around the research. 

“This experience taught me to really think about the information I was handling in a more comprehensive way,” Dominique said. “I was asking questions like: What are some different approaches I can take to presenting the information? Who will it be accessible to? And where am I getting this information from?”

Although the interns had some experience working on climate and sustainability issues before their time at Future Coalition, their research gave them the opportunity to dive into the heart of what it means to build a mass movement and build solidarity. 

“We learned so much about the importance of centering voices of the people who are most impacted by climate change and systemic oppression,” Dominique said. “We looked at movements all over the world to see how indigenous-led organizations mobilized and advocated for change. This really helped me understand what is important to look for when discussing and researching climate justice in environmental courses back at Smith.”

For the movement to continue moving forward, Ashley emphasized the importance of organizing on college campuses to create a lasting impact. “The most important thing I learned from my time at Future Coalition is the inclusivity of all voices. For example, I come from the Bronx, which has been very impacted by environmental degradation. The inclusivity of students from different communities and uplifting their voices on campus is really integral to having a successful movement on campus.” 

According to Emma, even though advocating for climate justice may seem scary and overwhelming, it is easier to participate than one may think. “At first, it was really intimidating,” she said. “But later I realized I was really good at research and writing, and I learned that could translate directly into those movements and not just academia. Everyone’s strengths are valuable in the climate justice movement!”

Dominique adds, as a final call to action for students: “Approaching climate justice with a positive lens is important. Don't be afraid to start small—we often forget about the little things we need to do to participate in the climate movement. Every little thing counts.”

picture of student phoebe lease

Phoebe Lease '21

picture of student Emma Ryan

Emma Ryan '23

picture of student dominique

Dominique Kelly '22

picture of student ashley rivas

Ashley Rivas '22

The internship position with Future Coalition was found by the students on the Sustainable Smith ENVIRO listserv. Email to sign up and stay up to date on internship opportunities. 


—Leela de Paula ‘23 is a communications intern at CEEDS majoring in Government and The Study of Women and Gender. You can reach her at