Welcome Alayna Jenkins!
July 13, 2023

Alayna Jenkins

Growing up in an agricultural Missourian community, I witnessed the delicate balance required for successful farming: the reliance on clean water sources with the significance of healthy soil for sustainable crop production. This upbringing instilled in me a profound understanding of the importance of environmental preservation and the consequences of human actions on the land we depend on for sustenance. 

Additionally, living near a nuclear waste site highlighted the dangers and long-term consequences of human-made disasters. The site, a byproduct of nuclear weapons manufacturing, resulted in the pollution of nearby streams and the infiltration of toxic chemicals into people's homes. Growing up in this environment highlighted the need for responsible waste management, rigorous safety standards, and the consequences of shortsighted environmental decisions. I witnessed firsthand the occurrence of rare cancers, asthma, and other health issues among individuals living in the area.

This dual reality of growing up in a farming community near a nuclear waste site heightened my awareness of the urgent need for environmental advocacy. Witnessing the cautious measures taken by the community alongside the ongoing concerns about the site's impact, I became acutely aware of the interconnectedness between the well-being of our planet, our health, and our future. Recognizing this inherent link, I felt compelled to take action and contribute towards addressing environmental challenges. I began working with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment when I was 16. My job exposed me to the impacts of various widespread issues that affected Missouri, from flooding, to a lack of biodiversity, to tornadoes ripping through many areas. Missouri is grappling with the impact of climate change, including the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which pose risks to ecosystems, agriculture, and public health. I also saw localized impacts through water and air pollution: agricultural runoff and industrial activities affect the quality of rivers and streams in the state, while industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and power generation contribute to air pollution, especially in urban areas.

Interning at an environmental nonprofit organization was an invaluable opportunity to immerse myself in environmental advocacy: it provided hands-on experience in addressing pressing environmental issues, collaborating with a dedicated team, and engaging in community initiatives. Through this internship, I gained valuable skills, expanded my knowledge of environmental practices, and contributed to the organization's mission of creating a more sustainable and ecologically conscious world.

Studying environmental science at Harvard heightened my awareness of the environment's direct impact on health and the world. I comprehensively understood the connections between human activities and the environment, encompassing scientific, economic, and social dimensions. This multidisciplinary approach equips me to contribute effectively to environmental policy development and implementation.

Given my background, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with the Open Environmental Data Project this summer. I'm thrilled to contribute my creativity to policy explainers, which are concise summaries of crucial environmental topics like AI usage and the role of Chief Information Officers in managing environmental data. I am particularly enthusiastic about contributing to the OEDP's Community Data Hub project, which aims to enhance data usability for environmental governance. In my role, I will support Emelia and Katie as they organize and conduct workshops in collaboration with other organizations and academics. Additionally, I will assist them in enabling communities to collectively decide on their data, demonstrating data governance models for sharing between communities, and facilitating sharing between communities and government. Working on the Community Data Hub project will allow me to understand how different organizations are working together on data governance issues; I hope to bring what I learn back to the local organizations I work with in Missouri.