Passion never rests
Amidst the flurry of UW students walking up University Way — or “The Ave” as it’s more commonly known — Faith Ramos stops halfway down a block. Sitting in front of her is a group of young adults, seemingly ignored or unseen by the majority of people walking past them. Approaching the group, Ramos asks a simple — yet often unheard — question: “Do you feel like a member of the U District community?”
For the youths who find shelter on The Ave, the anonymity and exclusion they face due to homelessness can be dehumanizing, something that Ramos and a group of her peers sought to alleviate as part of NextSeattle. A partnership between a Urban@UW and CoMotion, NextSeattle brought together students from a wide range of disciplines to address the most pressing social issues facing Seattle, including public heath and helping homeless youth. For Ramos, NextSeattle was more than a four-day workshop: “Innovating for urban challenges is one of the reasons I returned to college.”
Ramos initially attended college upon graduating high school, but family and financial issues forced her to leave before she could finish her degree. In 1999, Ramos decided to move from her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, to Seattle. Having previously advocated for various national movements and having worked with environmental organization Greenpeace, Ramos embarked on a career supporting causes and nonprofit groups in the Pacific Northwest, including FareStart and Mount Rainier National Park.
After 15 years of successful nonprofit work, Ramos thought about completing the bachelor’s degree she had deferred years before. “I’m not an expert; I just wear my heart on my sleeve and follow what I think is right and just,” she says. “So I went back to school to learn more about what’s practical.”
For Ramos, UW Tacoma was the perfect match for her aspirations. In particular, she was drawn to the sustainable urban development major, which focuses on economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity in urban areas. “When I found that major, it felt like all of these different parts of my personal and professional journey finally connected,” she says. “Mission-based work is important for me. As long as I’m serving a mission that I believe in, I’m tireless.”
Ramos’ adeptness in her field hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2015, she was one of only 50 undergraduates nationwide to be awarded a prestigious Udall Scholarship, presented to students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care.
In addition to introducing her to NextSeattle, Ramos’ studies also opened the door for an internship with the city of Seattle, where she is currently researching the social, economic and environmental benefits of urban canopies. “Street trees provide myriad benefits to the climate, environment and human health, including mitigating air pollution and slowing stormwater runoff,” she explains. “But, often in urban areas, places with the highest number of arterials and lowest canopy coverage also have high rentership (and are often lower-income), so people can’t plant their own trees. I’m focused on how we tell this story to developers and city planners and get people interested.”
With graduation approaching in June, Ramos fully plans to continue fighting for environmental equity for all, whether through a position with the city of Seattle or by earning her master’s degree in a related field. Through the opportunities afforded by UW Tacoma, Ramos is crafting a future with countless possibilities for impact.
What is environmental equity?
Differing from mainstream environmentalism, environmental equity (or environmental justice) pushes beyond preserving distant wilderness areas in order to focus more attention on communities, people and urban ecosystems. Some important facets of environmental equity include:
- Fighting for justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens by sharing stories, raising awareness and extending an invitation to build inclusive communities.
- Ensuring public health and safety — from safe drinking water, to healthy air quality and working conditions, to equitable distribution of environmental benefits (street trees, public green space, clean streets, etc.).
- Asking communities to be more aware of and become active stakeholders in shared urban environments.