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Long Beach Alum's Path Towards Environmental Justice Takes Flight

Published June 3, 2019

They say before you run, you must learn to walk. In one alum’s case, she learned to fly.

Okay, she didn’t actually fly, but she did land an exciting sustainability-related job with the U.S. Air Force.

When Whitney Miller was a freshman at CSULB, she attended an East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) meeting to discuss mobilization strategies to stop the expansion of the 710 freeway near Wilmington, a city near the Port of Long Beach that is home to many disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. This was her first exposure to the intersection between human health and the environment, and it wouldn’t be her last.

Miller’s commitment to finding innovative solutions to environmental and social justice challenges led her to an exciting career as an Environmental Training and Development Specialist at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) in San Antonio, Texas, where she supports their environmental programs. As part of her job responsibilities, Miller ensures that employees have the necessary knowledge and training to complete any project in an environmentally responsible manner. She is also responsible for providing logistical support to AFCEC trainings and assisting with the coordination of environmental awards. 

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Prior to assuming her current role with the Air Force, Miller worked as an Environmental Coordinator for a year and a half. In this position, Miller was involved with ensuring that Air Force projects were in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

 

“San Antonio is a burgeoning city, and encroachment is a persistent concern for Joint Base San Antonio,” explained Miller, “I assisted in the environmental impact analysis of demolishing buildings and other structures that are within the Randolph AFB Clear Zone, which is where aircraft accidents are most likely to occur. The removal of these structures from the Clear Zone will increase the health and safety of the base and the surrounding communities, which I believe is very important.”

 

The vulnerability of underserved populations in the face of climate change and other environmental burdens drives Miller to be an active advocate and voice for environmental justice. It is the reason her future plans include earning a Masters in Public Health so that she can be a part of the solution.

 

“Your zip code can determine how you turn out in terms of public health,” said Miller. She is passionate about addressing these issues for at-risk communities and cities near ports or in heavily industrialized areas that often bear the brunt of environmental impacts.

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Her journey toward a career in sustainability has evolved throughout the years, but what has stayed constant is her commitment to a more just and sustainable world, a commitment that has grown through her experiences, education and time at The Beach. 

Miller graduated from California State University, Long Beach in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Policy. Eager to be involved with sustainability, she sought opportunities to take on leadership roles that align with her values, such as being a member of the Environmental Science and Policy Club, becoming the ASI Sustainability secretary during her senior year and later working with Bolsa Chica Conservancy.

Miller also took on a position with the CSULB Office of Sustainability during her time as a student.

“Whitney was the first Student Assistant I ever hired when the Office of Sustainability as we now know it was being established back in 2014,” said Sustainability Coordinator Holli Fajack. “Whitney helped set up our social media presence, launch our monthly newsletter, and just generally set the tone for our communication and outreach efforts in those early days. She is smart as a whip and a super hard worker so I always knew she was bound to do great things to make the planet and communities better.”

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Miller’s experiences supporting sustainability at The Beach, as well as her professional experiences since joining the workforce have allowed her to reflect on the importance of collaboration in solving large scale, systemic challenges. Miller admires that the “mini city” of CSULB collaborates with various organizations to reach its sustainable goals. Being a part of that process has prepared her to do so on a much larger scale, whether it be citywide, statewide or nationwide.

“I realized there are systemic patterns across the U.S. for a variety of public health issues,” said Miller, “The issues of food deserts, inadequate healthcare, and contaminated air and water all fall into the realm of public health. By the time I enrolled into an environmental health class during my senior year, I knew that I wanted to use my background in environmental science and policy to be a part of the solution to these complex and interdisciplinary issues.”

Even though Miller moved to Texas two years ago, she is still very connected to her alma mater and even participated in the Imagine Beach 2030 event to provide her input about where the university could look like in the future. Miller hopes to see a heightened culture of sustainability on campus. She encourages students to take that culture with them after graduation to their homes, jobs, and communities and be the change they want to see in the world.