Laspa Action Grants: Edith Ortega ’18

The Laspa Action Grants were established to provide opportunities for students to transform knowledge, passion, and ideas into action; demonstrate creative and effective problem solving; create partnership(s) in the public or private sector; and produce outcomes that make a positive impact.

Students partnered with faculty advisors to submit grant proposals, and the Laspa Center for Leadership steering committee, composed of students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and trustees, narrowed down the submissions to six finalists, and chose two grant recipients. Ultimately, all six proposals were funded through the generosity of trustees, staff, and friends of the College.


Cultivating Awareness About Environmental Sustainability

By Morgan Albrecht ’18

Edith Ortega

Scientists and political leaders around the world are increasingly identifying climate change and environmental degradation as pressing issues to reckon with. Given that these complex problems are occurring on a global scale, it can be easy to get lost in the big picture when it comes to finding solutions. That’s why Laspa Action Grant winner Edith Ortega ’18 wants to bring these issues closer to home. With funding provided by the grant, Ortega launched the Summer Culinary and Agricultural Internship in June for high school students interested in learning about environmental sustainability at the local level.

A politics and international relations and Chicana/o-Latina/o studies dual major, Ortega is passionate about sustainability. “Although it is a global issue, with the world economy dependent on current systems of natural resource exploitation, I think everyone can make a small impact by changing their lifestyles to be more sustainable,” she says. “That was the motivation in creating this internship—to expose high school students to alternative and more environmentally friendly ways to live.”

The 12-week internship program involved four students from San Antonio High School, an alternative continuation school in Claremont. Ortega’s intended goal with her program was to provide agricultural and environmental sustainability education opportunities for students from disadvantaged communities. By funding the internships, Ortega’s program was accessible to students who typically spend their summers earning income through paid jobs.

“I wanted to offer students the opportunity to participate in internships, which are often only available to high schools with more resources,” she says. “Coming from an under-resourced and low-income community of color, I’ve noticed that spaces and discourses for environmental sustainability are lacking. The green movement and organic farming are in many respects classist and unattainable or unpractical for the poor or working class family. I wanted to create a program that reflected my interests in agriculture and sustainability at the 5Cs, while making it accessible to communities like my own.”

The student interns learned how to farm sustainably, as well as how to use the fresh foods they harvested for cooking or to create consumer products. They tended the high school’s San Antonio Plant Justice Garden, which serves students across Claremont through its outreach and education programs. Ortega believes that the mission of this garden fit well with the goals of her program, namely to impart knowledge about environmental sustainability through hands-on experiences. “We chose to work with Plant Justice because it aims to ‘empower students through exposure and introduction to new ideas and skills and to create a welcoming and safe space through the love of gardening.’ It’s a small garden in Claremont, so it was perfect for the four interns to work with over the summer.”

For six weeks, the interns also had the opportunity to work with Falling Fruit from Rising Women, a local organization that empowers women through social enterprise. For the culinary part of the program, the interns assisted in making jams from locally donated fruits, which were then sold at Claremont’s farmer’s market. The profits made from these jams are reinvested into Crossroads, a transitional housing program for formerly incarcerated women. Partnering with the organization proved to be a rewarding experience for Ortega. “Working with Fallen Fruit from Rising Women was a privilege. The purpose of working specifically with San Antonio students was that these students, often labeled ‘at risk,’ would benefit both from the mentorship of college interns and formally incarcerated women. The interns could benefit from sharing life experiences with the women, as they navigate their own course in life.”

Ortega also organized a visit to a local farm in nearby Chino that allowed the interns to get their hands dirty and immerse themselves in sustainable agriculture. The students weeded local produce beds and absorbed firsthand the entire farming process, from planting to selling the crops.

By summer’s end Ortega knew her project had made a positive impact on the Claremont community, and it had especially impacted the student interns. “The program was a success in that the students left more environmentally conscious and with concrete knowledge of how social enterprises and environmentally sustainable businesses operate.”

Ortega’s faculty advisor for the project, Scripps Professor of Political Economy Nancy Neiman Auerbach, echoes this sentiment. “I think the project did a tremendous amount to boost the students’ confidence and job skills. Several of them have already used the experience to get jobs.”

Auerbach, who has connections to both Fallen Fruit from Rising Women and Plant Justice, points out that the students’ maintenance of the San Antonio Plant Justice garden also ensured that students returning in the fall would have a productive space to do further work in agriculture. “Overall, I think Edith, the high school interns, and the community derived considerable benefits from this innovative Laspa funded project.”


For more of our Laspa Action Grants series, click here.