Alum Leading the Way for Positive Change in Environmental Science and Policy

Oct, 2023
A photo of Humboldt alum Emily Pinckney

Emily Pinckney (‘15, Marine Biology) is a dedicated environmental scientist, advocate, and leader committed to making the world a better place through her work. Her journey, driven by a strong sense of justice, empathy, and a desire for inclusivity, inspires positive change in environmental science and policy.

“When I decided to pursue a career in marine biology and went to Humboldt, my primary objective was to save the world. I wanted to make a difference. Many people choose a science career because they want to impact the world positively,” Pinckney says.

For the past ten years of her career, Pinckney has worked and volunteered for organizations that foster positive change, a sense of belonging, and access in spaces where people of color are underrepresented.

As a special project coordinator for Climate Solution’s Breaking Barriers Collaborative, a new initiative that helps Pacific Northwest businesses accelerate their efforts to curb their climate emissions equitably, Pinckney is now helping local small businesses in Washington and Oregon shift to zero-emissions vehicles by 2030. In the program, Pinckney and her team are helping small businesses build a fleet decarbonization action plan and apply for grant funding.

“We're focusing on businesses because they've never been a part of the climate conversation. Some have been in opposition, a huge part because they can't afford to make a clean energy transition and do it well. And a lot of folks don't know where to go. They don't have any guidance—which is where we come in,” Pinckney says.

In her previous employment, she worked as an environmental justice community organizer for Communities for a Healthy Bay, which aims to restore and protect Commencement Bay in Washington. Here, she taught a diverse group of students in inner-city and rural community schools about environmental science. During her tenure as a leader at the Seattle Aquarium and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, she instilled empathy in employees and visitors toward the animals under their care. She also focused on promoting community awareness about conservation by encouraging engagement with nature. In addition, she worked towards creating a more inclusive work environment for non-white individuals in zoos and aquariums by breaking down barriers.

Throughout her career, Pinckney has volunteered on various boards and committees to advocate for women and people of color. She served as a community representative on Washington's Gov. Jay Inslee's Environmental Justice Task Force, actively participating in creating the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act, which has played a crucial role in promoting equity and environmental justice among low-income and communities of color in the state.

Through her role as the executive director of 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization started by women in STEM that focuses on making academia accessible and inclusive, as well as encouraging the scientific community to be involved in social justice issues, Emily learned to continuously strive to make scientific knowledge more attainable and inclusive. She emphasizes the importance of sharing information and breaking down barriers in academia to ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to contribute to solutions for pressing global issues, such as climate change.

Pinckney’s journey at Cal Poly Humboldt played a pivotal role in shaping her career. The intimate class sizes, hands-on experiences on Humboldt’s Research Vessel, the Coral Sea, and dedicated professors like Frank Shaughnessy allowed her to develop a strong marine biology and environmental science foundation. Her connection with her educators, who genuinely cared about her success, impacted her educational experience.

“As a student at Humboldt, I had a great experience. Every professor knew my name, and I never felt lost in a sea of people. Even in my larger classes with 100 students, the professors were attentive and remembered everyone. This level of personal connection is impactful because knowing your students on a personal level is key to empathizing with them and providing the support they need,” Pinckney says.

On top of the support Pinckney received at Humboldt, she also has a great support system from her parents, who have significantly influenced her life. Their dedication to making a positive difference in people's lives inspired her passion for environmental change and policy reform.

She believes that everyone can make a beneficial impact in the world, regardless of how big or small the contribution is.

“Everyone can do a small act of impact. We all have our sphere of influence. It could be as small as our family or friend group, but we all have a unique set of skills that can be used to help others. It's important to recognize that not everyone has the same abilities or resources to contribute, but we all have something to offer. Just like every animal has a role to play in nature, every human has a purpose and can make a difference in their own way,” Pinckney says.

Photo: Emily Pinckney is an environmental scientist, advocate, and leader dedicated to making the world a better place through her work. Her journey is fueled by a strong sense of justice, empathy, and a desire for inclusivity, inspiring positive change in environmental science and policy.