Congratulations to the 2015-'16 U.S. Climate Leadership Fellows!

As our 2015-’16 cohort of Climate Leadership Fellows  finish their academic years and their Y.E.C.A. fellowships, we want to celebrate their dedication, hard work, and testimonies of transformation. The  Climate Leadership Fellowship  is a selective program for college students that begins with a  training retreat in August and runs until April. Through the fellowship program, we aim to train and equip new Christian leaders to promote a biblical understanding of and response to the climate crisis on campuses and in churches and communities nationwide.

Climate Leadership Fellows
From left to right, top to bottom: Lauren Bechtel, Cory Snyder, Joseph Tolsma, and Yuxi Zhao

One of the central components of the fellowship is the opportunity to develop a specific strategy and project for engaging the fellow’s campus, church and community around climate action. The $2000 fellowship includes project support, a yearlong stipend and related travel expenses.

The following are some highlights of the year shared by each of our 2015-’16 Climate Leadership Fellows.


Lauren Bechtel – Houghton College, New York

Lauren: “At Houghton College I was able to lead 20-25 students in through Eco Reps, our environmental club on campus. We [Dan Bellerose and I] hosted 11 events on Campus involving the student body population, 6 events for just Eco Reps, and 16 meetings for Eco Reps throughout both semesters. In total, Eco Reps put in over 400 hours in events, meeting, and volunteer work. We hosted a farmers market, trail walks, advocacy sessions, tree plantings, an Arts & the Environment Exposition, and a chapel, for examples of some of our projects. On a personal level, I advocated for bipartisan legislation on climate change, attended the COP21 in Paris, spoke in the Eco Rep Chapel, was interviewed on a conservative Christian radio station about a christian perspective climate change, and impacted the lives of students and friends. It was an incredible year, challenging but rewarding.”

What was the most rewarding aspect of your fellowship?

“The most rewarding aspect was the relationships I built with individuals on campus. I found myself investing in underclassmen and seeing them grow and develop in their leadership capacity.”


Cory Snyder – Greenville College, Illinois

Cory: “At Greenville College I was able to lead The Green Team and its constituents through programs that were primarily based on educating our campus towards environmental action. Throughout the year we hosted five programs varying from trash pick up at Greenville College, to environmental education in East St. Louis. Partnering with Sodexo food services, the Green Team’s most successful project was creating a composting system where we compost copious amounts of food every day.”

What was your favorite part of the YECA fellows program?

“My favorite part of the YECA fellows program is a tie. Going to Boston over the summer to the Lasuanne Creation Care conference opened my eyes to things that are happening in our country and gave me hope because I found out I was part of something much bigger than I expected. My next favorite aspect of the YECA fellows program was watching my goals turn into projects and eventually into a successful program on my campus.”


Joseph Tolsma – Northwestern College, Iowa

Joseph: “At Northwestern College, I was able to lead 10 students in the Creation Care Club where we focused on education of the college campus, political action, and the development of a sustainability vision for the college. We hosted various events throughout the year including forums, drop-in events, campus clean-ups, and documentary nights. At my local church, I was able to encourage a move to re-usable mugs during coffee time and educate the congregation about the importance of this action during an adult discipleship group studying laudato si. During the primaries in Iowa, we wrote letters to senators and presidential candidates. We also organized an event with over 30 students who wore green shirts to an event with 4 presidential candidates. I was able to ask questions about climate change to many candidates during the political season including Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz. Finally, we opened dialogue with resident life and maintenance to improve dorm recycling.”

 How has being a part of the YECA fellows program impacted you personally and how has it strengthened your ability to impact your campus around creation care and climate action?

“Being a part of YECA connects me to people who support me with great advice and encouragement. This has been a huge blessing and has allowed me to be more effective on campus. It has also taught me that I don’t have to do everything myself. Allowing others to handle various aspects of projects was hard at first. I had to force myself to release control and let others plug into the projects.”


Yuxi Zhao – Wheaton College, Illinois
Green Expo - Wheaton College

Yuxi: “I led Wheaton College’s environmental club in holding events and working on initiatives in sustainability and environmental awareness. We hosted a Green Expo which showcased 6 local environmental organizations and 6 student presentations and engaged the Wheaton College community (students, faculty, staff) in learning about local environmental issues and initiatives. We also held a 3-part climate change series on the science, politics, and implications of climate change which had two faculty and three student speakers. We had about 40-60 students attend each session. Lastly, I led a committee of 3 students to work on a proposal for the school to hire a sustainability coordinator. We connected with faculty, staff, and other parties who were involved in this conversation and conducted research into the hiring of such a position. We have a draft of a proposal and job description written for this position, which will be finalized in the summer, and the committee will continue on next year under new leadership.”

How has being a part of the YECA fellows program impacted you personally and how has it strengthened your ability to impact your campus around creation care and climate action?

“The fellows program has really made me dive into what it means to promote change and advocate for important causes. It has helped me ground my work of environmental advocacy, especially pertaining to climate change, in my faith and to deeper develop and think about what it means to be a Christian passionate about environmental issues such as climate change . . . Sometimes it was challenging and frustrating, but it has allowed me to not idealize advocacy work, but rather acknowledge the difficulties and really engage with them. I think learning to ground myself realistically but also full of hope has been a great strength that I’ve developed through this fellowship.”

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