Message From the Director

As we have entered the new year, I am reflecting deeply on our collective and individual impacts on the world, both in its current and future states. At MarinSEL, we continuously ask ourselves “How can we create impact?” and with that follows “How can we create the most effective, inclusive, meaningful, and lasting impact?”

As living beings on this planet, our decisions and actions are interconnected. The choices we make can have ripple effects that extend far beyond our own community and lifetime. The impact we have on our environment and society, whether negative or positive, can cross oceans and continents. We must learn to continuously step outside of ourselves enough to recognize that we are all part of a magnificently vast, complex, and ever changing system that responds to our actions. If we do not step up to this monumental challenge, it will undoubtedly continue to bring suffering and destruction to all living beings. And although most of the world’s peoples are not responsible for the crisis we face, they are ultimately paying the highest cost of all. MarinSEL students are working to focus on these impacted communities, listen to the challenges that they are facing, raise the voices of those who live there, and support them in spreading their message and moving towards solutions. 

Climate justice and protection are above all about empathy. We must focus the environmental movement on equity and justice globally in order for all of us to be liberated from the systems of oppression that brought us to this place. We must question our internal beliefs and biases. We must unlearn the destructive binary mindsets that have only benefited the few.

At MarinSEL, we believe that everyone has inherent gifts of their own. We all possess unique abilities that will help us find our ideal role in the fight against climate change. We do not all need to hold the same position in the movement towards environmental justice, we need scientists, sociologists, artists, speakers, politicians, lawyers, writers, designers, philosophers, healers… We need people who are invested in reducing the impact of climate change and environmental exploitation in all different sectors. We need everyone to have a seat at the table. We do not all need to be environmental scientists. The environmental and social crisis we are facing is multidimensional and intersectional. We need people of all interests and talents to be contributing by doing what they do best in order to find well-rounded solutions to this complex problem. We should all be embarking on this journey towards justice and liberation by following our unique paths, all while retaining the most joy, bliss and hope in our day to day lives. 

At MarinSEL, we want our students to walk away from the program consistently thinking about their impact on the world. We want our students to be conscientious critical thinkers who carry the value of community service and impact throughout their entire lives. MarinSEL is about lifelong learning, we want to teach lessons that will last a lifetime. We want our students to take their impact beyond their classrooms and workspaces and into their communities and the world. I encourage you to find your own role, pursue what brings you hope and joy, embrace your gifts and the variety of gifts from others, and continue to join us in the fight against climate change.  

9th Grade LEAD Projects Update

By Megan Greene

The MarinSEL class of ’25 is off to a great start in their second semester. Two large projects have started up – interdisciplinary projects and the LEAD projects. The interdisciplinary project focuses on the issue of water and what would happen if California ran out. This project highlights aspects of the three core MarinSEL classes: Biology, Geography, and English. 

Both last semester and this semester, LEAD projects address the topics of Wildfires, Sea Kayak, Garden, Marin Clean Energy, and Air Quality. Each group has a different focus and goal than the previous semester, but students get to build upon the knowledge from the fall project to take them to the next level. For example, the Garden group is restoring their environment, growing to produce, and making money to help fund future projects. In the end, these projects all aim to reach the same goal – to positively impact our planet and restore our environment one project at a time. 

Some groups will venture outside the classrooms to broaden their project outside of our school community. This includes hosting events at Terra Linda, going to markets, or even kayaking here in Marin to clean up our waters. Shama Stropes, a student in the 9th grade class, notes her favorite part of LEAD projects as, “Getting hands-on involvement, that gives you a taste of the real world, while working with your friends and peers.” 

Overall, the class of 2025 is off to a great start in the new world of environmental leadership, and they look forward to learning and helping their community. 

10th Grade LEAD Projects Update

By Dallas Hartwell

10th grade seminar students have spent the winter finalizing their LEAD Projects and while also turning an eye to their annual Portfolio Defenses. For LEAD, students have been collaborating with partners within the community to introduce greener recommendations for public resources and facilitators. This project is set to be presented at the end of March. Sophomores have also begun collecting artifacts throughout the school year to present individual and academic growth within their end of the year Portfolio Defense. 

Aside from the standard assignments, we’ve held weekly discussions regarding current events, particularly those that have a direct impact on the environment. We have also examined and reflected on important skills for group work and leadership – in particular gratitude, listening and delegating. Michael Palagonia also stopped by to present and answer questions on environmental strategies and the Arizona State College of Global Futures.  

11th Grade Sustainable Enterprise Update

By Karina Hammoud

Since the beginning of the semester, the 11th graders have been hard at work on their Sustainable Enterprises. All of the students’ business plans demonstrated great creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and sustainability. The businesses which particularly stood out in a fantastic way were selected to be the Sustainable Enterprises for the entire class to group into. We encourage you to explore and support these businesses in whatever way you would like. For more information about the sustainable businesses, click this link to reach our website.

Backyard Birdhouses:

At Backyard Birdhouses, we build and sell sustainable nest boxes. These products are made out of 100% recycled wood that is healthy for birds and the environment as a whole. We are committed to educating our customers about local birds that live in their neighborhoods through our products and social media.

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!





Evo-Natural: Smell Fresh and Keep our Earth Clean

Evo Natural is a sustainable business that creates an all natural deodorant that not only is non-toxic but also helps your environmental impact. We focus on making sure all our products are natural and not harmful to the skin. Not only are our products clean, we use packaging that is good for the environment. 

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!





Fire Flora: Wildflowers for Wildfires.

Fire Flora supplies Fire Resistant Landscaping Kits to households that are concerned about the fire safety of their yard. Each kit includes one or two fire-resistant plants,  brochures that help the customer further their yard’s fire resistance, and a wall calendar with general monthly fire safety tips. We hope to make our community a safer and more beautiful place.

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!






Flavor Profiles: To Honor and Celebrate.

Flavor Profiles is a business that creates Storytelling cookbooks that are made to honor and celebrate the lives of Black women who have died due to police brutality. Through our business, we hope to uplift voices, while also exposing people to the food many people within the Black community hold close to their hearts. 

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!

Website: Coming Soon




Free Spirit Suds: Clean Earth, Clean Body.

Free Spirit suds offers sustainable soap made with natural ingredients that benefit your health and wellness and is available to all. We use food-based dyes and exfoliators to craft our soap along with paper packaging in order to keep toxic chemicals and plastics out of the ocean and away from organisms.

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!





Los Labios del Pacífico: The soothing taste of coastal life.

Labios del Pacífico is an environmentally conscious, palm oil free brand that makes a soothing lip balm. This product provides education around the issue that is plastic pollution as well as deforestation and how palm oil contributes to that issue. In doing this, we are creating a more general understanding to stay away from products containing palm oil and made with plastics!

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!






Patchy Pride:  Creating community wherever you go!

Here at Patchy Pride, we aim to create an inclusive community through the power of queer representation. We create sustainable pins and patches representing flags and identities of the LGBTQ+ community. Our products are completely customizable to ensure the representation of the customer’s unique identity and are made with recycled materials! We believe that to create revolutionary change, you need to be the revolution which is exactly what we wish to inspire our customers to do.

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!

Website: Coming Soon

Order Form: Patchy Pride Order Form

Instagram: ​​



Simple Scents Candle Co.:  

Simple Scents Candle Co. is a sustainable candle company. Simple Scents provides high quality beeswax candles, using recycled jars, beeswax, coconut oil, and essential oils as its only ingredients. As well, Simple Scents provides education on scents from around the world and their cultural importance, promoting inclusivity in our community. 

Click here to reach their contribution page and support their business!




12th Grade Internship Reflections

By Karina Hammoud

Currently, 12th graders are over halfway through with their year-long, environmentally focused internships. The students are continuing their internships this semester and shared several updates on their projects. They shared  about their current internship experiences and how they have better prepared them for the upcoming endeavors that they will pursue after graduation.

First, we heard from Sofia Weinstein who has been interning for the Buck Institute, an independent bio-medical research institute that researches aging and age-related disease.

Sophia:We first started out the internship with getting a Green Lab Certification, where we coordinated with to determine changes required to attain certification. We work alongside the scientists at the Buck to conduct energy assessments, where we help the facilities team monitor and assess energy usage in labs. We have also conducted recycling assessments where we assist in the composting and recycling programs, and also help identify ways that the labs can be more environmentally sustainable. In these next few months, we are planning on creating events for April (earth month) where we will participate in the Green Vendor show, plan Buck hikes/open space clean ups with the Buck scientists, and also work with the city of Novato for earth day events.”

Next, we heard from Allie Madden who is interning at All One Ocean, an non-profit organization whose mission is to educate communities about the destructive impact of little on our Ocean and waterways, and provide simple sustainable and effective ways to reduce our impact on the Ocean environment.

Allie: “I am interning at All One Ocean. I, along with Anna Foehr are part of the Ocean Warriors program, which helps create curriculum for elementary students on ocean pollution. I have had a great experience this year working with the All One Ocean team. Additionally, we have attended multiple beach cleanups at Horseshoe Cove, and will continue to participate in them. I have had a great time working with the other interns and learning more about ocean pollution.”

Finally, Rhea McKenzie, who is interning at the San Rafael Airport, gave us some insight on what it is like to work on sustainability initiatives at a private airport which is also home to several commercial businesses.

Rhea: “One aspect of my internship that I have really enjoyed is the fact that I’ve been able to work one on one with Bob Herbst [who is an expert in solar power and manages the airport site]. Doing so has allowed me to grow comfortable in asking questions about my responsibilities and future endeavors and projects of the airport and my internship. I also appreciate the flexibility he grants me. Each week I have a few tasks that I need to complete, but the times I choose to complete them are up to me. As for the work that I complete, it’s pretty routine each week. I regularly track the Airport’s and JHS Properties’ solar production, record them in a spreadsheet, send summaries to Bob, and report errors to the respective maintenance people/companies. I have also started managing the EV Chargers at the Sports Center.”

As the Seniors approach the end of the school year, they are preparing for their new journey out in the world. MarinSEL students are flourishing into the successful people they are meant to be with the support and encouragement of their peers, their internship supervisors, as well as the multitude of MarinSEL experiences which have trained them for both higher education and the workforce.

Celebrating Black History Month & Women’s History Month

By Amani Abed and Karina Hammoud

As the winter months dwindle and spring approaches, it is important to recognize both Black History Month and Women’s History Month. It is a time to highlight the role racial and social justice plays in our lives, while contemplating how we’ve drawn inspiration from and supported local organizations furthering both.

Black History Month is a great time to renew commitment to highlighting the immense impact that the Black community has had on the environmental movement. Black thought leaders, activists, sociologists, and writers, such Dr. Robert Bullard, Dr. Beverly L. Wright, and Dr. Dorceta Taylor (to name a few) have paved the way for the environmental justice movement globally. The MarinSEL curriculum focuses on the restoration of our environment, advancing solutions that mitigate climate change, and adapting to the current realities of the climate crisis, in an equitable and inclusive way which recognizes the history of environmental racism in the USA. Please join me in celebrating the incredibly important work of just a few of the many Black leaders in sustainability.

Dr. John Oluseun Dabiri, a Nigerian-American aeronautics engineer and the Centennial Chair Professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), carried out research on schooling fish, which allowed him to design a vertical-axis wind farm which is considered to be cheaper, safer, and more efficient than horizontal-axis wind farms. He founded a company named Scalable Wind Solutions to commercialize the software used to optimally place the wind turbines. His most recent research focuses on reverse engineering and bioengineering. In 2015, he became a professor at Stanford University and he is particularly interested in motivating children considering STEM fields.

Ms. Terrie Harris-Green is a local environmental justice advocate, community organizer, educator for Marin City and board member of Marin City Community Services District. Marin City is home to a large Black community, with deep roots leading all the way back to the city’s birth in 1942 where Black residents played a huge role in war time efforts to protect the United States. Additionally, she is the co-director of Marin City Climate Resilience and Health Justice (formerly known as Shore Up Marin), an environmental justice and climate equity organization that works to promote equitable inclusion of low-income communities in planning and community preparedness for environmental disasters particularly flooding and sea-level rise due to climate change. City Climate Resilience and Health Justice (CCRHJ) coordinates with local community members to go door to door to educate their neighbors and community on how to prepare for emergencies. The residents are also asked to identify their individual needs which must be met by local officials in case of a flood. Marin City Community Service District and CCRHJ are now collaborating to build a Disaster Preparedness Council to help the community prepare for floods, earthquakes, and disasters.

Discover the important work of other local predominantly Black-led organizations that are taking on important environmental justice and climate crisis issues happening in the Bay Area. Some of these organizations include: 

Marin City Climate Resilience and Health JusticeFormally Shore Up Marin, Marin City Climate Resilience and Health Justice is a multi-racial environmental coalition that works to identify community concerns around sea level rise, educate community members about resources and solutions, and foster dialogue, inclusion, and understanding between diverse stakeholders. Currently, Shore Up Marin focuses mainly on mobilizing residents and stakeholders from low-lying, under-served areas such as Marin City and the Canal Neighborhood of San Rafael.

California Environmental Justice Coalition – Led by people of color and low-income communities, CEJC is a broad, inclusive, grassroots statewide coalition of small and large groups uniting urban, rural and indigenous communities in resistance against environmental racism and injustice, and committed to environmental, social, and economic justice.

Bayview Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee – The Bayview Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee is a grassroots community organization educating and mobilizing residents to demand environmental justice and an end to decades of environmental racism, contamination and injustice, it was formed by residents of Huntersview public housing who lived across from the infamous PG&E Hunters Point fossil fuel power plant that made many residents sick until community protests forced it to close in 2006. Currently the main campaign is to demand a full cleanup of all radioactive and toxic waste at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Superfund Site, where rising sea levels threaten to flood the contamination into neighborhoods and San Francisco Bay.

Organizations such as these have inspired a large part of the SEL’s curriculum and core learning outcomes. As the renowned feminist, activist, and writer, Audre Lorde puts it: “Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist”. Engaging students in change-making by challenging biases and elevating voices and work of historically marginalized communities, naming and addressing injustices is crucial to shifting the current culture. The students’ LEAD project groups are the program’s focal point for community action and solutions within the curriculum. The students take an active role in solving environmental issues through critical analysis, creative problem solving, and collaboration with most impacted local communities on environmental and social issues that those communities have identified. Students learn from the resilience and excellence of Black communities who have been the leaders of environmental justice and climate justice work. 

Women’s History Month, observed in March thanks to the hard work and dedication of the women and girls from our close neighbors in the Sonoma school district in 1978 is about the celebration of women’s achievements and contributions to society, history, and culture through student presentations and essays. Empowering young girls with the same tools and project infrastructure that has been historically made scarce for girls in education allows them key exposure and skillset building in the world of business at an incredibly early and impressive point in their careers.

In our upcoming Green Business Leaders Event – an impressive flagship event showcasing student innovation and community engagement around both student-launched and industry sustainable enterprises upholding a triple bottom line of social equity, environment and economics. Many of our female MarinSEL students will have the unique opportunity of presenting their sustainable enterprises to their peers and local business leaders. One student project to spotlight is run by Sarah Mondesir, she will be presenting her business “Flavor Profiles” which creates storytelling cookbooks that honor and celebrate the lives of Black women who have died due to police brutality. The goal of her business is to “uplift voices, while also exposing people to the food many people within the Black community hold close to their hearts”. For more information on this exciting convening of stakeholders in sustainable enterprise, please visit here.

Teacher Spotlight on Mike Cairns

By Scott Stenback

Mike Cairns is the Sustainable Enterprise teacher for 11th grade from College of Marin.


Mike Cairns has over 30 years of broad experience in Finance and Operations. Mike’s deep experience covers everything from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups and most recently institutions of higher learning. 

Mike is the current CFO of The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, prior to this he served as CFO and Vice President of Finance and Operations at San Francisco Theological Seminary; CFO and Vice President for Finance and Administration for Saybrook University (a non-profit, graduate school rooted in the humanistic psychology movement).

Mike grew up working on farms in Scotland. He emigrated to the United States to attend the University of Hartford where he earned his B.A. in Business Administration. Later, he moved to San Francisco and received an M.B.A. from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is also a Certified Public Accountant. 

For the past 20 years, Mike has served in executive positions, he also started his own consulting firm. He teaches as an adjunct professor in business and accounting at College of Marin.

Mike volunteers as an accreditation evaluator for WASC, is a judge for the Better Business Bureau Torch Awards for Ethics, and recently was elected Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees at Goddard College.

In his spare time, Mike enjoys the teamwork of Tough Mudders, is a triathlete, and is a Double Dipsea survivor. Mike is committed to his family in Scotland and the U.S., is a dog lover, reads the Economist every week, and his favorite movie is Love Actually.

Q: How long have you been involved with MSEL?

I have been teaching the College of Marin MSEL junior business class for four years. 

Q: What attracted you to the MSEL program?

Being able to foster and enhance these students as our future leaders with the emphasis on environmental and social equity issues within the program along with the focus on project-based learning.

Q: What are some of your favorite business ideas that the students have come up with in the past? 

All the businesses are successful at addressing environmental concerns. They all also address social equity concerns, although some are more successful than others. My favorites are those that successfully embed and integrate social equity considerations into the fabric/infrastructure of their business. For example: by ensuring a diverse group of people test and provide feedback on new products as they are developed and adjusting design considerations as appropriate.

Q: Have you seen patterns in what makes a student successful during their time at MSEL?

Yes, absolutely. The students who really engage with the material and are passionate about their projects are consistently the most successful in the program and beyond.  

Q: What advice would you give the parents of MSEL students?

To engage regularly and interactively in open minded conversations about the environment and social equity issues.  To listen carefully, be a solid sounding board for innovative ideas, ask the right questions (who, what, why, when and how) but not be the project manager.

Q: Does MSEL benefit from being up the road from Silicon Valley? Do you feel there are ways to have deeper connections? And is it important?

Yes, I think the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the Bay Area does benefit MSEL and anyone trying to start a business. I think the quality of the speakers that the business class hears from and also the “shark tank” panel participants points to MSEL already having very good connections within the business / entrepreneurial community. Of course, they can always be enhanced. I think it is important because hearing from people who have broad experience in starting environmental and social justice focused businesses helps students relate how the project they are working on can positively impact society.

Q: Who inspires you in the fight for the environment?

I’m inspired by the students in the MSEL program, their creativity and passion for the environment and social justice is awesome. I think the most effective environmentalists are those who see the core of environmental awareness as spiritual and see environmental injustice as closely linked to social and economic injustice.

Alumni Corner

By Megan Greene

For our Alumni Corner, we’re checking in with Michaela O’Brien, a graduate of TLHS in 2018 who attends Sonoma State University, majoring in Geography and Management with an emphasis in Environmental Systems. Currently, she is also working with the City of San Rafael in their Community Development department as a Planning and Building Intern. We thought we’d catch up with her to learn a little about her journey.

Q: Let’s start with your current job as a Planning & Building Intern with the City of San Rafael: Can you tell us what you do in this position?

It depends on the day. I’m either working in the office helping customers with issues or reviewing site plans and giving approval to different permits that come through building and planning. As a go-to person at the virtual building counter, I will assist the community with any questions they may have, and sometimes I help the Code Enforcement and Housing Department. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to work for the city that I have lived in my whole life. I have approved permits for buildings that I grew up with, and I’m watching new buildings take shape. This job has given me new skills and allowed me to apply skills I’ve learned through my MarinSEL experience. 

Q: How did you decide to go into this position, and what was the path that took you there? 

Over a year ago, I was looking for an internship that went with my major. One day this amazing opportunity came up, and I couldn’t pass it up. I decided to apply, and they loved my resume, where most of my experiences were from the MarinSEL program. 

Q: How do you think that MarinSEL prepared you for this job and/or life beyond high school? 

If I did not go through the MarinSEL program there is no way I would have this position. My current employer hired me because of my previous experience working with a construction company, a job I got because I had taken an engineering class in MSEL. My engineering teacher, Allison Oropallo, gave me amazing experience working with contractors, and a few years later became my boss. Another helpful opportunity I was fortunate to participate in was a data analysis through SEI. 

Before coming to Marin School of Environmental Leadership, I was the kid in the back of the class that didn’t participate or say anything. When I came to this program, I broke out of my shell. Just being in this environment gave me the confidence I needed. Now I’m the most outgoing person you’ll know! 

Q: If you hadn’t been in the MarinSEL program, do you think you would have had the same opportunities? How did these opportunities benefit you?

Definitely not, this program gave me these amazing opportunities. Not to mention all the skills I learned through MarinSEL, leadership, communication, collaboration, and so much more. I’m so entirely grateful for this program. 

Q: Did MarinSEL or TLHS, in general, have an impact on the decisions you’ve made? If so, how?

MarinSEL definitely showed me how much I do care for our environment, which I’m so grateful for. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for this program. 

Q: What was your favorite MarinSEL experience, and why?

My favorite experience is getting opportunities to go and educate kids, a group of my peers went to elementary schools and taught about composting, which was so much fun!

Q:  What is one word of advice that you would give to the current high schoolers about the future?

The best advice I can give is to keep going. You’ll find your way. I know for a while I questioned what I really wanted to do, and I still don’t know at times. All I know is I’m in a good position now, and new opportunities will come. Don’t get too stressed over the name of your school, do what works for you. 

Q: Of your four years in MSEL, which project stands out as your favorite? (LEAD, Internship, Sustainable Business) Why? Did you continue your project at all?

Sadly I didn’t continue any of my projects, but I wish I did. All of the projects — LEAD, Internship, and Sustainable Business were amazing experiences. I would do all of them in a heartbeat if I could. Each project gave me different experiences and allowed me to grow as a person. Personally, I have had academic struggles. I am not a good test taker and it’s hard for me to sit, watch and learn, but MarinSEL gave me hands-on opportunities where I gained the most knowledge in my academic career. Being an Environmental Major has also allowed me a similar opportunity. 

Save the Date – Green Business Leader’s Event

Join us to see Collaboration in Action at our annual Green Business Leaders Event on Tuesday, April 26 from 5 – 7:30 PM! You’ll be inspired by Juniors from the Marin School of Environmental Leadership who will share their sustainable enterprises, as well as local environmental and business leaders, MarinSEL students, and teachers!




Join MarinSEL for our 2022 Green Business Leaders Event on Tuesday, April 26th, 2022 from 5:00 PM – 7:30 PM.

This lively and thought-provoking fundraiser and networking event delivers updates on the amazing work of our teachers and students and connects our attendees to innovators and businesses making meaningful impacts in their field and sustainability.

Early Bird Suggested Ticketing Price (2/18/22 – 3/18/22): $35 (Students: $15)

Suggested Ticketing Price after 3/18/22: $50 (Students: $25)

To purchase tickets, please visit the link here.

*No one turned away for lack of funds. Please contact to get advanced tickets. 

**We are following all COVID-19 mandates and precautions and want to ensure the health and safety of everyone. We will be monitoring the situation and communicating any additional precautions closer to the event date.

We believe every student who dreams of being an environmental leader should have the educational opportunity to do so. By sponsoring the Green Business Leaders event or donating an auction item, you’re enriching the MarinSEL experience, breaking down barriers to access, and giving opportunities to all students to become leaders for a more resilient world. Please feel free to reach out to Stephanie ( To sponsor the Green Business Leaders event or donate an auction item, please visit the sponsorship page. Thank you for your support!