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NatureBridge’s Exemplary Eco Women Feature Story: Miho Aida
Troy Tournat
March 8, 2016 - 2:03pm

Miho Aida with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell | Photo credit: Robert Thorpe

Miho Aida has been an essential part of the NatureBridge team for over 15 years, dedicating her life’s work to increasing environmental science education access to those with little or no access to these resources. Currently, she is our Equity and Inclusion Coordinator, and promotes a more diverse and inclusive community at our campuses. This #EcoWomenWed, we are proud to share her incredible achievements and insight as a woman of color in the environmental field. 

 

Tell me about your journey with NatureBridge? In what ways has NatureBridge shaped and impacted your life? 

My journey with NatureBridge started when I saw the mission of the organization: inspire personal connection to the natural world and responsible action to sustain it. Our mission has changed since then but the core message remains the same today. Our mission motivates me to become a teacher who recognizes unique differences among my students and how I could honor their experiences while inspiring them to take actions to protect most vulnerable population to the environmental impact. 

The longer I teach at NatureBridge, the more I recognize how important for students, especially girls of color to have environmental role models who look, sound and live like them so that they know what outdoor adventures, leadership opportunities and careers are possible. 

This realization combined with my own experience as a few outdoor women of color inspired me to create an environmental media project called "If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Models." This project is dedicated to creating a culture that gives a voice to outdoor women of color who are making a difference in our community and environment.

 

In 2008, sponsored by NatureBridge’s Matthew Baxter Award, I interviewed and photographed inspirational, diverse, outdoor women who were building and sustaining powerful social, environmental, and human rights movements against the backdrop of the great outdoors. In 2010, through NatureBridge’s Bishop Marcus Award, I went on a journey to document Native American women who protect our public lands in the United States. 

Both journeys gave me tremendous opportunities to recognize my own privilege and personal power to create a change in both professional and personal life. The experience inspired me to approach NatureBridge with an idea to create an Equity and Inclusion Coordinator position to institutionalize our diversity initiative for our participants and employees. 

 

What environmental or NatureBridge-related achievement are you most proud of, and why?

Sustaining myself for 16 years as an educator at NatureBridge. 

"One thousand days to learn; ten thousand days to refine" is a Japanese proverb. As a teacher, there is always a room for improvement and I see becoming a master educator as a path, not a stepping stone. I am proud to be still on this path learning constantly from my students and peers, and showing that this could be a career to other educators. I am grateful to reach a space where teaching is very peaceful. It makes me feel alive, brings so much joy, and helps me dream big. It is a therapy, it is a play and it is where my spirit wants to be.

There are other moments that I was proud of in the 16 years. One that stands out is that I had a privilege to create the west coast’s first multi-cultural marine science lab. Half of the world’s population live within 100 miles from the ocean, and yet we know more about space than what's beneath the big, blue water. If our goal is to inspire responsible action to sustain our planet, we need to connect people to the ocean. So much of how we interact with nature is socially and culturally constructed. By creating a multi-cultural marine lab, it provides a safe space to acknowledge and validate our students' own experience with the ocean and learn the relationship between the ocean and people from all over the world. 

 

You commented that your main goal is "increase the visibility and access of people who had little, if any access to environmental education and our parks." How are you reaching this goal as an Equity and Inclusion Coordinator and Field Science Educator at NatureBridge?

In terms of our students, thanks to our scholarship fund, I am happy to say that we are meeting our goal to provide NatureBridge's experience to underserved students. 

Further, we are taking steps forward to making our jobs more accessible to the people who are traditionally not represented in environmental education. With a goal to match our staff demography with students demography, we are creating a fair recruiting and hiring system and strengthening our existing pipeline programs such as Educator Development Program (EDP). We are also creating a plan to change our internal culture to be welcoming and inclusive to our staff and participants. Examples include educator cultural competency training, gender neutral space, etc. 

As an educator, I want to create an inclusive space for my students. Because our students change every week, it is a constant challenge to recognize diversity in my group, honor who they are, and provide lessons that are relevant for their life back at home. I dedicate my time to learn and celebrate the cultures that they bring to me. 

I know they feel valued when I do that because sometimes I get a letter from students like this one:

Dear Miho,
 
As you probably know, I am a fifth grade student from Bentley. You probably know me as the tall kid in the group. But just so you know I looked at you as a lot more than just an educator at a sleep aways camp. You are like a real friend to me. You taught me so much about everything at NatureBridge...........I really love how you let us greet each other in so many languages because now we all know how to greet someone in 14 different languages........
 

 

How are we promoting a more diverse and inclusive community at our campuses?

At NatureBridge’s education summit in November 2015, I identified what educators need the most to enhance their cultural competency when teaching. My goals for the next two years are to develop trainings for educators, distribute online resources and tools, and share how to create a safe space and experience at each campus. 

At our Golden Gate campus, we have ongoing diversity trainings that focus on educator resources and tools as well as spiritual growth opportunities to become more aware of our own perceptions, biases, privilege, and assumptions. We just had a day to learn LGBTQ inclusion, teaching to students with autism, trauma-informed youth development, and how to celebrate black history month in the field. My hope is that by having these trainings, we are more prepared to find a common ground with students from many different backgrounds. 

 

Each year, thousands of girls of color go through our NatureBridge programs and connect with nature and science, often for the first time in their lives. What suggestions would you give these students who want to be more involved with the environment? 

For me, it was key to connect with other women of color in this field and create a kinship among these women. I also think it was extremely important to have mentors who are women. My mother always reminded me to stay connected to the nature by eating healthy food, encouraging me to play in the outdoors, and try new things. People who introduced me to climbing, surfing and telemark skiing are all women. Now I lead a Women of Color Wilderness Retreat, organized by the Balanced Rock Foundation in Yosemite National Park. This is the only backpacking trip dedicated to women of color in the United States, and I think participating in activities with people who look, sound, and live like you are also important. 

I also tell my students that you may be the only girl of color in the space, but remember, someone is always looking out for you and sees you as a role model. After all, you are inspiring other girls of color to think, "If she can do it, I can too!"

 


To learn more about Miho and her projects please visit her website and watch her short documentary that gives voice to women of the Gwich'in nation in the Arctic to permanently protect their sacred land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from a potential oil development. 

Edited by NatureBridge Communications Team.