Today we’re featuring Olivia Forsheé, a Freshwater intern and Macalester student. Olivia is majoring in environmental studies and minoring in psychology, and is in her final year of college. She began interning with Freshwater in September, and she’s another fully remote Freshwater intern.
Olivia grew up in northern Kentucky, but considers Milwaukee home—her family moved there when she was in middle school.
Path to Minnesota
As a kid, Olivia had a clear life plan: She was going to be a surgeon. But as a senior in high school, that plan abruptly changed. “I took AP environmental science, and I loved the teacher, loved the course content, and completely switched my life around to start pursuing that,” she says.
Olivia had always loved nature, but hadn’t entertained the possibility of going into environmental science—until that class and teacher set her on a different track.
“There’s such a need for it now,” she says. “With [the way climate change is accelerating], which can be so depressing, I’m still holding out hope that we can knock some sense into people and turn this all around.”
As she prepared for college, Olivia applied for a scholarship that partners with 13 different colleges and universities. One of these was Macalester. “I took a tour, and as I walked around, I just knew this was the school for me,” she says. So she landed in Minnesota, putting her in Freshwater’s sphere.
Work with Freshwater
When Freshwater Executive Director John Linc Stine visited one of Olivia’s classes, she thought he seemed like someone she’d want to work for. She took down his contact info, and when it came time for her capstone, she knew where she wanted to intern.
Olivia’s focus during her internship has been our diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) initiative. She’s worked with Freshwater Senior Program Manager Jen Kader, compiling data from interviews and shaping strategies for Freshwater to increase its DEI efforts.
She’s also worked with Freshwater Participatory Engagement Coordinator Jocelyn Leung in applying for a grant, which would aim to gather community input for a state water plan which sets out the next 10 years of climate resilience. This grant would focus on gathering input from rural and BIPOC communities.
Toward environmental justice
This area of work is new to Olivia, who has a strong interest in doing environmental justice work but no background in DEI. “The reason I want to go into environmental justice work is that I feel like there aren’t enough people willing to do it,” she says. “You have to do so much pushing for people’s rights [in a way] the government might not be a fan of.”
Olivia worked on a project over the summer about waste sorting. Her takeaway was that our individual actions impact others in a way we don’t always see. “There’s an incinerator in Hennepin County affecting the people who live near it,” she said, “because we aren’t sorting our waste. The things we do every day and don’t think about are having an impact on people on the other side of our community—or farther away.”
Olivia’s ultimate goal is to help people. “I thrive on the actions that help make a difference in someone’s life, big and small,” she says. This passion drives her toward work in the environmental justice field. “I want to be fighting for people who are disproportionately affected by climate change because they aren’t always given the voice or the opportunity to do so themselves.”
She hopes to keep pursuing this type of work after her internship, and is excited to see where it takes her in the field.
“Freshwater has helped me solidify and practice my passion for helping others,” Olivia says.
Her work on that grant application with Jocelyn, along with her role on the DEI project with Jen, has been valuable in shaping her goals.
“Getting the chance to work on these two projects has given me proof that this is the work I want to go into—and it has shown me that I am capable of success in this type of work,” she says.