Hello Montgomery County, I’m Laura Sivels (she/her/ella), and thank you for welcoming me to the Department of Environmental Protection! As the Climate Engagement Program Manager, I will be looking to connect with community members and organizations across the county to engage as partners in climate action. I will work with county residents on a range of climate-related engagement and communication activities, with a particular focus on collaborating with community members likely to feel disproportionate impacts of climate change, including immigrants, refugees, people living with disabilities, neighbors experiencing homelessness, renters, low-income populations, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
From the beaches to the live oaks canopying the lakes near my neighborhood, my childhood was consumed with these Florida landscapes. Yet, it is also remembered with natural disasters like the year that four hurricanes swept through my hometown and severely damaged my childhood home. I didn’t know then the impact of climate change on more frequent, stronger hurricanes, but I felt the catastrophic impact in my community.
Fast forward to college, where I studied Economics and Political Science at Florida State University. I hadn’t considered a career in climate change but was passionate about community access to state and local government. I was working as a lobbyist representing organizations like foster care programs, senior centers for independent living, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, and cities throughout Florida. Though I was uncertain about my future career path, I was passionate about listening to Floridians and advocating for them in the policy and budget-making process.
Upon graduation, I moved to Cologne, Germany, to study International Sports Development and Politics at the German Sport University. My research was on leveraging the global sports community to drive climate action and I was becoming increasingly engaged in climate discussions. While I was studying in Germany, a record-breaking heatwave killed hundreds across the region. Once again facing the disastrous effects of climate change, I decided to wholly commit my career to climate change mitigation and adaptation to protect communities feeling the impacts the hardest.
I moved back to the United States and began working with a youth-centered, equity-focused non-profit, Our Climate, as the Florida Field Organizer. I worked to empower young people and other frontline communities to share their stories and advocate for equitable and intersectional climate justice policies to build a thriving world. Working with Our Climate, I also studied climate science and equitable policy at the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability.
My partner got a job in Washington DC so we moved from Florida, and I started a fellowship at the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. I engaged in human-centered design and social science-related research to develop indicators to measure human health and environmental condition. I also collaborated and contributed to the development of the Equitable Resilience Builder to serve communities in co-creating equitable, community-developed resilience plans using storytelling and trauma-informed approaches. At DEP, I am inspired to take these experiences to work on the local level to build equitable climate resilience in Montgomery County.
In my free time, I really love sports and have a passion for making participation accessible to all for the health, wellness, and community it brings. I play rugby for the NOVA Women’s Rugby Club and enjoy watching sports like football, hockey, and basketball. Last year I had the unique opportunity to be the sustainability coordinator for the Super Bowl with my hometown team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Food is also a big hobby of mine whether I’m cooking, baking, or eating! My partner and I are vegan, and we love to garden and cook together.
I hope that I will be able to serve all members of the County well and be a resource to build equitable resilience. I look forward to making connections throughout the county, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to get a coffee, take a walk, or invite me to an event to discuss climate engagement in the community.
– Written by Laura Sivels, Climate Engagement Program Manager, Department of Environmental Protection
Reach out to Laura at Laura.Sivels@MontgomeryCountyMD.gov