Pathways to Environmental Leadership Part 2 – Tallis Monteiro

“Equity work is a core value of conservation because the protection of land for clean water, food, and recreation impacts everyone,” says Equity and Education Manager LaKyla Hodges. “In recent years Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and other conservation organizations have worked to understand barriers and traumatizing past events which can make accessing land and enjoying outdoor recreation more difficult or painful for many people of diverse backgrounds.”

In this newsletter series, LaKyla hosts discussions with peers to find out more about their journeys in environmental careers. In Part 2 of this series, Tallis Monteiro shares her experiences.

Early Influences

“I grew up outside of New York City along the Long Island Sound,” says Tallis. “I recall my first introductions to the environment there, flipping over rocks to look for little crabs or turning belly-up horseshoe crabs over so they could get back into the water. I also remember playing in the small garden behind my mother’s parents’ apartment and watching my grandfather take care of his plants. Interacting with nature has, for a long time, drawn me in with a sense of curiosity and amazement – especially for learning about the different roles and interactions that everything in nature plays together that are critical to life!”

Tallis decided to attend UNC Asheville largely to experience the area’s rich biodiversity. She built her major in environmental science, international studies, and human rights, three intrinsically connected subjects.

“I see myself as an advocate and steward of environmentalism and conservation through my work and personal enjoyment of nature, which I find to be inextricably tied to issues of social justice and liberation,” says Tallis. “I also see myself as a student of my environment because I have so much to learn from it.”

Common Threads

“Climate justice advocate Mikaela Loach makes an analogy comparing mycelium to movements for social change,” continues Tallis. “Mycelium are extremely tiny fungal “threads” that we can’t always see; they exist underground forming a massive network connecting trees and plants, and connecting dead organisms to living organisms — truly amazing and foundational for life. They mirror the way that issues in the world are truly connected in some way. As we illuminate these connections, we can learn how to work together to each use our skills and roles to do our part to unravel those issues. It is important to understand the strength of your local community as it is tied to the global community.”

“In my current position working as a remote sensing project lead with NASA’s Develop National program, I am able to see these common threads between environment and human rights on a global scale in real time,” she adds. “My team is working to investigate and map wetland loss in Cali, Colombia. Although I work remotely, my colleagues in Colombia have shared how important it is to speak with people native to these areas to piece together the full history of their wetlands.”

Tallis cites experiences like this as resources for furthering her understanding of how to navigate and incorporate intersectionality in her professional and personal relationships with environmentalism.

“I think my identity has helped the formation of my relationship with the environment,” she says. “Being a young, Latina woman, I feel strongly connected to my ancestry which has come from generational fisherpeople and stewards of the land and environment.”

Positive Connections

In her career pathway, Tallis also worked as a Community Gardener at UNC Asheville and environmental educator at Asheville GreenWorks. She saw firsthand the changes that comfort in outdoor spaces can have on an individual.

“I value the positive effects that access to green spaces can have,” said Tallis, “but I also know all too well that there is a longstanding practice of degrading the environment around communities without social capital, to the point of becoming hazardous.”

Because of this, Tallis believes that reestablishing our connection with nature and overcoming negative perceptions of the outdoors are vital steps toward developing a lasting passion and career.

“Incorporating care for the earth into our daily lives can be the first step to fostering a positive connection to the outdoors, and eventually assisting with creating new pathways for others,” she adds.