Fellowship for Emerging Leaders


Through the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders, the Institute seeks to empower young leaders by offering them paid professional opportunities that shape their development as future environmental and community leaders. This opportunity provides fellows with the hands-on experience and skills required to design and implement high-impact projects focused on policy and practice. Through this Fellowship, emerging leaders gain a unique training experience that builds their portfolio, expands their professional networks, and advances their career goals.

Previous fellows have conducted research, produced reports, designed webinars, and facilitated partner engagement processes that have sparked critical discussion and movement amongst leaders in parks and open space. Leveraging the Institute’s networks and process-driven approach, our fellows have affected park discourse and action in the areas of health, youth education, climate change education, urban development, and building a more diverse, inclusive park community.

Since our first cohort in 2014, the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders has quickly become a cornerstone program, bringing valuable new perspectives to the Institute’s work. Our ability to bring young leaders from diverse backgrounds into this field is critical to ensuring that parks are working to address the challenges of all communities for years to come.

Learn more about our Fellowship Alumni here.

2016 Fellowship Alumni

Lea Kassa was the 2016 Health program fellow for the Institute at the Golden Gate. She has a background in public health research and outreach. She has worked with several research groups, nonprofits, and community organizations in Los Angeles, New York, Ithaca, and Guatemala to address socioeconomic and racial disparities in health. Lea is a recent graduate of Cornell University and holds a degree in Biology and Society with minors in Nutrition & Health and Inequality Studies.



Maria Romero, 2016 Climate Education program fellow, is a Bay Area local that comes to the Institute with an impressive array of research experience, ranging from documenting science practices in the classroom to creating programming curriculum for students underrepresented in computer science. She impressed the Institute with her warm personality, her experience with environmental educators, and her ambitious academic portfolio. Maria recently graduated from Simmons College, where she double majored in Environmental Science and Computer Science, with a minor in Biostatistics.


2015 Fellowship Alumni

Sophia Choi was the Institute's 2015 Urban Fellow. During Sophia’s fellowship, she planned, researched, and developed an in-depth case study report looking at large-scale urban park planning and the transformation of former military bases. She also explored opportunities to turn information into impactful stories, ultimately facilitating her own storytelling workshop. Sophia joined us from New York as an urbanist and writer, with a background in urban planning, architecture, and design with editorial experience in those fields. Sophia holds a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from New York University. 

Rhianna Mendez was the Institute's 2015 Health Fellow. During her time at the Institute, Rhianna documented the successes of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. Rhianna’s final report, the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area Roadmap and Case Study, is now a critical resource not only for the Bay Area but also for communities across the country interested in starting their own initiatives around the nexus of parks and health. For this project, Rhianna drew on her background in public health prevention and environmental health. Prior to her time with the Institute, she worked with non-profits in the nation’s capital striving to provide a healthy world for all. Rhianna holds a degree in Public Health from American University.

Rhianna is now a Program Assistant for the Primary Care Coalition.


2014 Fellowship Alumni

Ruth Pimentel researched urban engagement in the national parks as the 2014 Urban Fellow. During her time with the Institute, Ruth produced two action-oriented reports on Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs and Building Stewardship through Internships. Passionate about public use of the outdoors, she has done urban gardening and habitat restoration for endangered plants throughout the Bay Area, including a year of ecological fieldwork in the Presidio of San Francisco. She has also worked in Bosnia, Israel, and Honduras, and earned a degree in archaeology with certification in Modern Standard Arabic from Harvard University.

Hector Zaragoza was the Institute’s 2014 Health and Wellness Fellow. Hector played a critical role in the development of a new Youth and Wellness Initiative in partnership with the Crissy Field Center. He also led a partner outreach initiative for the Healthy People Healthy Parks: Bay Area collaborative. Hector holds a degree in International Development Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles and has experience studying and working abroad in both Germany and Mexico. 


Visit our Fellowship Benefits page to learn more about the opportunities available for Institute Fellows.


"I feel like I grew more professionally in these six months that my entire time in college. This position feels essential and it was the perfect segue into the “real world.”

–Lea Kassa, 2016 Fellow