Empowering the Next Generation of Youth Leaders through STEM and Community Action


woman overlooking city & water

Youth are the next generation of leaders; they must develop strong critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills to lead their communities towards a sustainable and just future. STEM-based education helps develop these essential skill sets for students’ growth–such as creativity or media and technology literacy, which is now necessary for student success. It also allows students to work collaboratively to identify problems and develop solutions. 

 The Climate Initiative is on a mission to empower youth voices for climate action. We recognize that not all youth have access to the same resources and opportunities needed to support their fullest development and success. In particular, youth in low-income school districts often do not have sufficient resources and technology to engage in STEM activities. The lack of exposure can influence students’ disinterest in the field. Such inequitable opportunities in school have direct implications for low-income Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students’ social mobility and economic equality–especially with the growing field of careers in STEM. 

As a result, Black and Latine workers are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. The Pew Research Center found that in 2021, Black workers represented 9% of all STEM workers, while Latine workers made up just 8%. This data showcases the need for more BIPOC youth engagement in STEM and interdisciplinary learning. Whether or not youth pursue a career in STEM, the skills they acquire from engaging in STEM will set them up for success no matter what pathway they take. 

“[The] data showcases the need for more BIPOC youth engagement in STEM and interdisciplinary learning.”

For this reason, The Climate Initiative has partnered with Kids Making Sense to provide 20 educators in under-resourced communities with air quality kits for their classrooms through the Air Quality Action Project Program. Kids Making Sense, developed by scientists and educators at Sonoma Technology, unites STEM education with a complete measurement and environmental education curriculum. Kids Making Sense teaches students in grades 6-12 about monitoring and improving air quality in their communities. In this unique program, students learn about particle pollution, its sources, and its health effects, followed by a hands-on lesson using handheld, low-cost air sensors paired with a smartphone app. Students measure air quality around schools and their local community and develop an understanding of particle pollution sources and affected areas. Data collected are crowdsourced on a mapping website for discussion and interpretation, and youth learn about pollution control actions and how to support them. 

A sample kit that educators will receive when a part of the Air Quality Action Project Program (via Kids Making Sense)

The Air Quality Action Project Program aims to connect under-resourced youth with technology to engage them in data collection and analysis, place-based learning, and community-based action. It is open to high school educators in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Nevada, particularly in areas with high levels of air pollution. 

The Air Quality Action Project Program will engage students in air quality education and hands-on air quality data collection. Students will then lead a community-based action project informed by the data gathered. The action project can focus on community education, mitigation or adaptation solutions, policy initiatives, or hosting a Community Conversation. These are a few ideas, but youth are encouraged to be innovative and draw from their lived experiences and sociocultural backgrounds to create something impactful.

Low-income and BIPOC communities are at the forefront of environmental impacts despite being the least responsible for the degradation of the environment. As such, they should be at the forefront of the solutions to bring justice to their communities. Because of this, the Air Quality Action Project Program seeks to support youth development and showcase youth as leaders at the forefront of change and action in their communities. To see youth leading community solutions, we must empower all youth with access to resources and opportunities to develop essential skills and facilitate their growth as the next generation of leaders and agents of change. 

Interested in the Air Quality Action Project Program? 

Learn More and Apply