This Woman Is Influencing a New Generation of Climate Justice Leaders

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As soon as she could talk and walk, Ofelia Mangen, Ph.D., wanted to make the world a better place. Her mother, an immigrant from Nicaragua, and her father, an Ohio native, taught her to be resourceful — to grow her own food, reuse and repair what she could fix, and build what she did not have. Today, the 38 year-old Girl Scout alum is using her broad range of experiences to help young people in New York City and around the world become better environmental advocates through the power of learning, direct experience, and strategy development.

“As a white Latina educator, I've spent the past several months bouncing between elation at the growing awareness and action being taken to address equality and justice, and horror at the lengths some will go to maintain the status quo,” Dr. Mangen, who recently began working with the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society, Earth Institute at Columbia University, tells CircleAround

“The overarching mission is to improve human welfare and the environment,” she continues. “For this reason climate justice and many more, I couldn’t be more excited to join the team.”

According to the program’s website, the IRI uses “strategic and applied research, education, capacity building, as well as forecasts and information products to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate, and manage the impacts of climate.” Together with her colleagues and research scientists from around the world,  Dr. Mangen will help create programs to train a new generation of climate advocates aiming to make the world a better place.

“My contributions will mostly focus on designing and developing a training framework for the Columbia World Project, ACToday: Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today, for Tomorrow,” she tells CircleAround. Dr. Mangen explains that this particular project will help combat hunger by increasing climate knowledge in six countries that are particularly dependent on agriculture and vulnerable to the effects of climate change and fluctuations.

Her ability to combine research, academics, social change and climate advocacy has been a part of Dr. Mangen’s life since she was young. Her love of journalism and investigation led her to become a Gates Millennium Scholar. Her career path has always included elements of leadership, mentorship, and a focus on evolving youth culture.  

"As an educator, some of my biggest victories aren’t necessarily mine,” she explains. “They come when my students, colleagues, and collaborators achieve the goals that we set out to accomplish when we work together."

She highlights “the electrifying energy of 1,000 young people ready to use their powers for good” at the yearly Unleash Innovation Lab events, where she saw one of the teams make it to the final stage of the competition, as a particularly proud moment.

Recently, Dr. Mangen was asked to join the Youth Empowerment Summit (YES)/Hive NYC team, which supported matched community organizations with young citizens via a local Summerbridge career/volunteer program. 

“As an educator, some of my biggest victories aren’t necessarily mine,” she explains. “They come when my students, colleagues, and collaborators achieve the goals that we set out to accomplish when we work together. … I’m in awe of everyone who’s bringing their best selves to make sure this essential program continues to serve as many NYC youth as possible.” 

Dr. Mangen knows that so many of these success stories were only possible because of the people she surrounds herself with. “I am constantly humbled by the educators I work with,” she tells CircleAround. “Especially their commitment to educating and the way they tackle the frustrations and challenges that often accompany the first transitions from in-person synchronous learning experiences to working in hybrid or fully online environments.

“The work can be challenging for anyone, which makes it all the more rewarding when they get to a point of feeling creative and confident in their ability to continue teaching effectively in new learning environments.”

As she begins to facilitate programming for a new school year, Dr. Mangen’s greatest piece of advice for budding environmental advocates young and old is to examine the way we consume. 

“First, I'd invite everyone to ask three questions of everything we buy: 1) Where does it come from? 2) Why do I have it? 3) Where is it going, when I'm done with it; when I put it in this bin, etc.?”

The answers might feel overwhelming, but she knows the end result is always positive. “Change is hard,” she admits. “And unlearning something that’s deeply ingrained in practices of teaching and learning can be the hardest part of all. This is a simple way to start examining the ways our everyday decisions create the world we have to live in, and highlight opportunities for small wins.” 


Tags: Education, Environment, Climate Change

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA, and we make financial distributions to benefit the next generation of Girl Scouts. We strive to make the world a better place by supporting each other today and emboldening the women leaders of tomorrow.

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