Advocate for just & sustainable change • Empathetic leader • Life-long learner • Facilitator • Creative communicator • Naturalist • Organic gardener • Dance party catalyst • Cat mom • Fungi enthusiast • Adventurer
Sarah (she/her) believes in the power of idealism paired with action. Her work seeks to advance intersectional environmental justice and dismantle systems of oppression so all beings can thrive. She has extensive experience and skills in project management; program development; planning; justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in organizations; workshop facilitation; team and community building; event coordination; integrated communications; public speaking; outreach; land-based education; and sustainability initiatives. Sarah hears from peers, colleagues, and supervisors that her strengths include cultivating relationships built on trust and empathy, sharing her thoughts and perspective with vulnerability and transparency, and centering perspectives and needs of communities facing injustice. She has a knack for connecting ideas, people, and projects to build collaborative communities that work toward just and sustainable change.
Read Sarah’s story below, view her resume for more about her education and experience, and browse her portfolio for a few work samples. Watch some of Sarah’s interviews and presentations on her YouTube channel, or read about her graduate experience on the OSU Environmental Arts & Humanities blog. Additional materials are available by request.
“We humans have the unique ability to contemplate our place in nature. We have a responsibility to act as empathetic members of the biotic community, doing so is to challenge what we consider necessity. We must reduce harm to other living beings for the greater good—not just for our global human society, but for every being in our global community.”– Sarah Kelly
Sarah lived most of her life in the urban expanse of Houston, Texas. Growing up, she balanced her time exploring the edge habitats surrounding her house with time inside pursuing performing arts and reading about fantastical worlds. The bayous and woods where she played helped her cultivate an appreciation for nature; though hers was a complex relationship with the land, experiencing feelings of love, connection, and loss. She saw the fireflies slowly disappear over time and oil bubble up from discarded car parts in Mustang bayou. Sarah learned about climate change, habitat loss, and other forms of environmental destruction while living in a place where freeways are more valuable than fireflies and oil and gas profits trump clean air and a stable climate.
Finding her passion in college
While pursuing her undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Houston, Sarah began to find her niche. Motivated by the urgency to address global environmental issues, Sarah started her professional journey in the environmental movement by coordinating low-impact environmental events as a college intern with Green Lily Events. Later at a sustainability-focused event on her college campus, she met staff who were launching new sustainability efforts, and she was hired as one of the first staff members dedicated to support campus sustainability projects. She also was drawn to connect students directly with the natural world and worked at the University Outdoor Adventure program, leading trips, coordinating climbing competitions, and co-founding the university’s first climbing club.
Building skills in communications and sustainability
In 2012, Sarah graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and a minor in world cultures and literatures. After graduation, she worked at the UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics as a communications specialist, writing news articles and speeches, managing the website, designing brochures and newsletters, and coordinating all events and recruitment for the graduate school, among other roles. During this time, she continued to fight for the land by becoming certified as a master naturalist and working on projects to restore and protect the native ecosystems of the Gulf Coast.
She left UTHealth to return to her alma mater to lead campus sustainability initiatives as the first Sustainability Manager. While leading the UH sustainability efforts, Sarah sparked a social awakening for students, faculty, and staff to embrace pro-environmental behaviors and ensure current and future generations can meet their needs. Building awareness and acceptance around sustainability was no easy feat in the oil and gas centric city, but under Sarah’s leadership the University of Houston became the first Texas university to achieve a Gold STARS rating. She spearheaded a project to restore the land to native habitat by replacing lawn with native prairie forbs and grasses. And most notably for Sarah, she mentored and supported a diverse team of talented college students who worked collaboratively on projects from waste reduction, renewable energy, large events like Earth Week, Sustainability Fest and RecycleMania, organic gardening, and emissions tracking and reporting. Even with all her successes at UH, she felt a pull to push herself further and learn how to fight against the denial and erasure of climate and environmental injustices.
Challenging the status quo in graduate school
Sarah left Houston to pursue her master’s degree in Environmental Arts & Humanities at Oregon State University where she studied environmental justice, place-based education, and ecological ethics. While at OSU, she studied under and collaborated with notable environmental ethicists, historians, writers, and changemakers working to challenge the status quo of environmentally destructive and inhumane practices. Some of her research focused on environmental worldviews, the nature/culture dualism, the land back movement, and fortress conservation. Throughout her studies, her primary focus was to challenge the dualistic, anthropocentric western worldview that sees humans as separate from nature and to center Indigenous worldviews and land rights in environmental writing, policy, and education.
Her primary graduate project was coordinating educational programming and research for the H.J. Andrews Forest Discovery Trail — a mixed-discipline arts, science, and humanities field trip program in an old-growth forest where scientists and artists conduct long-term ecological inquiry. Sarah used an eco-phenomenological methodology to understand the student experience during this field trip and found that all students felt a sense of restoration by this interdisciplinary, place-based experience; some students recognized this phenomenon as a type of self-care and others were inspired to care for nature because of their experience. You can read more about the project and research outcomes in the published paper.
During graduate school, Sarah also co-facilitated a collaborative strategic planning process for the College of Forestry’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan and assisted with planning the first fully virtual Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, focused on Fracking & Climate Change. She was a teaching assistant for Consensus in Natural Resources, Parks & Protected Areas, and Forest Policy, leading lectures and activities in environmental worldviews, Indigenous land rights, collaborative decision making, climate change communication, trust, and facilitation. She graduated from the program in June 2018 and worked as an environmental education contractor until accepting a position at Whole Earth Nature School in Eugene, Oregon.
Creating equitable outdoor experiences for youth and beyond
Sarah currently serves as the Outdoor School Director at Whole Earth Nature School where she works to create an inclusive, equitable community for students to cultivate relationships with nature on their own terms. She is committed to ensuring that every student at Coyote Outdoor School has a sense of belonging, feels welcome in their Coyote community, and supported in their immersive outdoor learning experiences. Sarah strives for students to leave with better scientific understanding and ecological knowledge, greater self-confidence, new human and non-human friends, curiosity to discover more, and gratitude for nature’s gifts.
As part of her commitment to life-long learning, Sarah has recently been learning about trauma-informed care and restorative justice practices. She has started to implement new systems at Whole Earth based on this research. Sarah also created and coordinates the Justice Talks program for Whole Earth staff to learn about justice issues in community and take action in their personal and professional lives.