Director’s Message

I come from a long line of women activist, starting with my grandmother who was the first female to graduate with a Mathematics degree from her university and my mom who won YWCA’s Woman of the Year two years. In my family, the importance of activism has been passed down from generation to generation. Now, gender inequality, especially for women, has been brought to the forefront of many conversations because of the women who have stepped forward to speak their truth. I want to thank those women, knowing how difficult it is and recognize the door they have opened for so many others.

In college, as a woman in science, I began to notice and feel different as one of the few women in my programs, in the Physics Department at Reed College and Engineering at MIT. So much so, I wrote an article on it, focusing on the dichotomy of not wanting to feel different as a woman in science, but also knowing that I was different.

Now, as a Founder and Executive Director of a project-based learning and STEM school, my hope is that the young women in MarinSEL won’t have to face the same obstacles that myself and so many women in science have faced. I am so proud that alongside me, our two science teachers in MarinSEL are women. Sara Frack teaches 9th grade Biology and AP Environmental Science. Allison Oropallo teaches Environmental Engineering and outside of MarinSEL works with Girls Garage, a one of a kind design and building program that provides a dedicated workspace for girls.

At MarinSEL, we teach empathy, collaboration, and acceptance of each other’s ideas to all students. These values allow both the young men and women at MarinSEL to be appreciative of one another’s ideas and feedback based on merit, rather than a gender, race, or other bias. These students will leave MarinSEL with these values and be able to take them with them whether their career leads them to a STEM field or not. And if these young women want to pursue a career in a STEM field, I hope they have no hesitation in pursuing such a career because they can choose their own pathway and not be made to feel different in doing so.

I hope as the young women of MarinSEL graduate through the program, they honor the courage and risk taking of those before them. And they honor those before them by not accepting anything less than what they deserve, equality.    

I’m so honored to have been selected to enter the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame this year. There are many incredible women in Marin that have made this county amazing and a place I’m proud to call my home. I would love for all of you to join me at the event to recognize all the remarkable contributions women have made to this community, county, and world. 

Best regards,



Brave Sophomores Wrangle Fifth Graders at Walker Creek

By: Georgie Craig

What’s the definition of bravery? There are many, but one I like is: being afraid of something and doing it anyway. That spirit of adventure is what came to my mind when I heard the stories of two MarinSEL Sophomores who recently completed being counselors-in-training at Walker Creek. These brave Sophomores had to corral Fifth Graders for nearly a week at the Marin County Outdoor School.

I don’t know about you, but to volunteer for that seems very courageous.

For Sofia Kakleas, the highlight of corralling a posse of 10-year-olds was “getting to know the amazing kids. They were so fun and had such an abundant amount of energy.”

There were issues, as there always are on a brave adventure. Sofia remembers “sassy attitudes, clingy kids, multiple trips to the bathroom and doctor’s office, etc.” But her biggest hurdle? “My greatest challenge was getting the kids to follow the rules such as quieting down or respecting nature,” she said.

But that didn’t stop her from enjoying the week of mentoring local preteens. “I LOVED the barnyard boogie. The first and second day was very stressful, and the barnyard boogie was very relaxing and fun!” Sofia said. “I got to dance with the cabin leaders who are my closest friends but also with the kids.”

Fellow MarinSEL Sophomore, Axel Hsu, was another brave soul who joined Sofia on the mentoring quest. And since everyone has their own unique experience, Axel’s highlight wasn’t the preteen corralling as much as the sharing of a wonderful time.

That time was “the solo night hike through the valley of Walker Creek,” he recalls. “The views were breathtaking, where the stars lit up the world, and the mountains made you feel small.”

His difficulty mirrors Sofia’s. “My greatest challenge was keeping the kids under control, and also being patient,” Axel said.   

Yet he loved getting to know the kids. “It was challenging at times, but I felt it was also rewarding,”

These two brave explorers also have some advice for those willing to take on this quest next year.

Axel suggests, “I would say be ready for a challenge and don’t go into it thinking you can slack off.”  Sofia agrees, saying “Be prepared for anything!”

And as always, every experience can be improved upon. Axel thinks it would have been better to meet the children first and have more teacher support. “I would’ve liked to have gotten to know the kids before the experience, and also I felt the teachers of the students didn’t really help us all that much. “

And Sofia? “For the whole Walker Creek experience, I would recommend more counselor breaks.”

Anyone who decides to spend day and night corralling preteens is a special soul, as far as I am concerned. So, I thank all the MarinSEL Sophomores who volunteered their time to make the Walker Creek experience so special. 

MarinSEL Students Undergo Climate Leadership Training

By: Andrea Taylor

MarinSEL sent another round of students to the Climate Reality Project this year to join 1,400 people from around the world for three days to learn about climate change. The Climate Reality Project is Al Gore’s educational training program for students and for adults from any walk of life to learn in-depth the issues regarding Climate Change. Al Gore began his program in 2007, a year after he released the film An Inconvenient Truth. Their mission is “to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society.“  Over the past two years, MarinSEL has sent 17 students to the Climate Reality Project. On average, 1000 people have come to this event every year since its inception, seeding the world with leaders that have an updated, in-depth grasp of the current climate change situation. Al Gore proudly points to this fact in his sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, called An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which also addresses his Climate Reality Project.

The five MarinSEL students that attended this year’s project in Pittsburg in October spoke of the impacts it made on their lives. Jocelyn Tsai recognized that people are best persuaded when they are told a story, and when that story touches the heart. It is through emotions that change will happen. This wisdom is echoed throughout the climate change activist world, as we struggle to reach despondent, distracted and disengaged citizens that ignore their role in affecting our future.  Isa Farfan has become emboldened by the education she received, stating that “climate change affects everybody. It doesn’t discriminate between races or economic classes, but is simply a human issue. The problem with the way it’s being approached in some parts of the world, particularly the US, is that it’s being addressed as a white, privileged issue.” Nick Testa commented that he was surprised that every country is in agreement about the Paris Climate Accord except the United States and Syria (whom has just joined), saying “..even North Korea is in on the agreement! That really opened my eyes (but did not surprise me) to how ignorant our current … administration is about environmental issues.” Again, an echo from the climate change community.

 Jocelyn reports that Al Gore recommends focusing on three guiding questions: Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?  She says: “These are good to keep in mind while thinking about climate change. We must change because it’s causing all these horrible natural disasters, killings crops, contributing to the refugee crisis, and much more. We can change because we’ve made and still are making advances in renewable energy sources. Solar panels are now very common and affordable, so people can install them all around the world. .. We will change because many are still committed to the Paris Climate Agreement despite what Trump says.”  This is the voice of commitment, vision, and positive action.

Inspired to continue to educate others, Isa states that she “will be spending next semester at a leadership academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and … plans to share this information with students there, who come from 30+ countries in Africa.” Go ISA! 

In an effort to support the students at MarinSEL meet their “10 Acts of Leadership” requirement to maintain their Climate Reality Leadership status, MarinSEL would like to hold regular Climate Reality presentations for the public, especially for the parents of Terra Linda High, and give the past attendees an opportunity to convey their knowledge about climate change and what we can do. 

Student Excerpt from the Perspective of a Sea Turtle

By: Catherine Stengel (Class of 2021)

The crystal clear water seemed to be shining a bit brighter than it usually does. The waves seemed to be swirling and sloshing up onto the sandy shores. The water had an unnatural iridescent tinge to it, one that I have never seen before. . . . All of the sudden, I felt something tug at me, and I had no idea what it was. I realized that something had not grabbed me, but I was stuck! There was definitely something wrapped around me and I kept spinning around and jolting forward to try to get this horrible thing off of me. This is when it hit me- when I was little, my parents would always tell me to watch out for the “plastic”, but I never knew what that meant, not until now. It all makes sense now! I thought to myself, I am tangled up in this- this dreadful inescapable “plastic” and it is going to kill me! . . .

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most heavily polluted marine areas in the world. . . . It is estimated that approximately 220,000 vessels of more than 100 tons cross the Mediterranean Sea each year, this accounts for about one third of the world’s total merchant shipping. These ships often carry hazardous cargo, which if lost would result in severe damage to the marine environment. 

LEAD Project: Deep Green

By: Sonya Kumar

On Tuesday December 5, the freshman LEAD team (Olivia Yoakum, Isaac Harlem, Joey Scardina, Elda Desta, Rebecca Meshel, and Ruby Prose) for the Deep Green initiative attended the board meeting for the Dixie School District. Their goal was to convince the Dixie School District to consider a switch to Marin Clean Energy from PG&E to meet the district’s energy needs. They included information on both Light Green, which is partial clean energy, and Deep Green which is 100% clean energy from MCE. The district had previously chosen not to switch to MCE due to cost. The students gave the board updated information and handouts highlighting the changes in pricing structure which resulted in lower prices with MCE. These price reductions are a direct result of more and more customers switching to MCE. They also outlined the benefits of switching to MCE as well as highlighting the environmental curriculum that they have helped with throughout the district. They have a petition on that asks the Dixie District to consider switching to MCE at their next board meeting. Please sign the petition here and help our students out!

Alumni Corner with Claire Parkinson (Class of 2015)

By: Noel E. Olson

I want to thank you Claire Parkinson, for talking with us, and please, tell me when you graduated from MarinSEL and all about your course of study at CAL!

CP: Actually, I was in the inaugural class- the very first class of MarinSEL! I graduated in 2015, and was accepted to UC Berkeley into their College of Natural Resources. I am studying Environmental Economics and Policy. It is similar to a basic economics major, but I also take Natural Resource and Ag Economics classes. I am learning about resource allocation, how to incentivize better environmental choices, and how to reconcile economics and the environment. I want to learn how to make sustainable businesses the norm. Businesses have to think about the long-term goal over time as a trend. Everybody has to think about how long things last.  Policies that help restrict non-sustainable businesses will help sustainable businesses grow. It’s hard to make sustainable consumer choices when they are not offered. A bigger impact has to be made on a larger scale as sustainability becomes the new norm.

MarinSEL: I heard you began a new environmental fraternity!

CP: I did. My friends and I just started an environmental service professional fraternity. It is called Epsilon Eta and it is for undergraduate students at UC Berkeley seeking post-graduate opportunities in the environmental field. It is part of a national organization, and we thought that Berkeley needed to have a chapter! We began planning for it about a year ago, and this semester we had our first rush week and info sessions. We have our inaugural Pledge Class this semester with 18 awesome students who are all passionate about the environment and studying a variety of subjects. It is really fun, and to belong, everybody volunteers 10 hours of environmental service per semester. So far, our projects this semester have been beach cleanups, creek restorations, and gardening with several non-profits and environmental organizations in the Bay Area. We provide professional development. In fact, we are currently speaking with SEI to try and partner with the Climate Corps Fellowship Program and AmeriCorps.

MarinSEL: What skills from MarinSEL prepared you for college and how have they helped you?

CP: One of the main reasons I started my fraternity was to try and replicate the close-knit community of passionate environmentalists that I experienced in MarinSEL. MarinSEL also taught me how to be a good public speaker. I learned to speak in professional settings and give presentations to business authorities. I also learned how to organize and delegate tasks, and how to create presentations creatively. MarinSEL presentations are just like what I do now. Networking is a skill I learned how to do as being part of MarinSEL. I know how to answer questions! The main thing MarinSEL gave me is environmental knowledge.

MarinSEL: Out of your 4 years at MarinSEL, what was your favorite project?

CP: My favorite project was my sustainable project. We got reclaimed wood and built it into tables. We did some really big ones that were so cool! We also made custom pencil cases. I love Ms. Oropallo! The skills I learned in her class taught me so much- I loved that class. I still talk to everyone in my graduating class, and get together with the teachers because of the bond we formed in MarinSEL. I also really liked the internship program- I ran the youth leadership program at the Bioneers Conference. It taught me all about project management.

MarinSEL: Did any projects continue on? Or leapfrog you into another project?

CP: I think it is possible. I want to create another sustainable business. I’m a vegan and passionate about it, especially about the implications for sustainability that a shift towards a plant-based diet would have. So, one idea is to work on making healthy, affordable vegan food more accessible through policy or through opening a business or a vegan restaurant. I’m very interested in environmental policy, so I will probably become an environmental consultant and help businesses become sustainable or a consultant to a non-profit.

MarinSEL: Is there anything you would change or encourage MarinSEL to hang on to?

CP: A lot has changed since I’ve been there, but one of the things I hope MarinSEL continues to do is emphasize community. They need to make sure it is a cohesive group. Having that bond made the classes so much more for me. Whatever MarinSEL can do to stamp out cliques and make sure everybody is treated fairly and not excluded would be great. When I was there, everybody worked on one project together- it wasn’t even called a LEAD project! We had different tasks working toward the same overall goal, which was trying to get rid of plastic bottles. It was a great inclusive project.

MarinSEL: Would you have done anything differently if you could do MarinSEL over again?

CP: NO! I was definitely stressed during high school. I took every AP class I could, and participated in several clubs and sports teams, so I was sleep deprived. It wasn’t easy to go to a zero period every morning for the first three years and do all of the extra work that being an MSEL student required on top of this, but it was definitely worth it. I needed all that to get to where I am today.

MarinSEL: Do you have any advice for current MarinSEL students?

CP: Really get to know your graduating class. They can become your best friends that you will have the rest of your life! Also, take all the professional development opportunities that you can. Speak at the Business Leaders Breakfast, make presentations, and go to conferences. Network!  Those opportunities are harder to come by in college, so develop your professional skills now. As for college, follow your passion! When writing college essays, write about what helped and improved your professional development through MarinSEL the most.

MarinSEL: How would you like to make a difference in the world?

CP: My goal is to improve the world in the best way I can. Leave things better than you found them. Our generation has to do this- not want to. Using the skills and knowledge I have and am learning, I want to mitigate the current and future effects of climate change and push sustainability in design, technology, policy, and our culture, etc., as the new normal for everything.

MarinSEL: Last comment?

CP: Thank you for reaching out to me. I will always remember my roots- MarinSEL took a chance on me, and I hope to make the MarinSEL program proud. I appreciate all that MarinSEL gave to me.

Save the Date: Business Leaders Mixer: March 15th

The 2018 Business Leaders Mixer will take place on Thursday, March 15th, 2017 from 4:30 – 7:00 PM at the EDG offices in Hamilton Landing, Novato. Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to mix and mingle with other business leaders from the Bay Area. Buy your tickets today! 

Save the Date: Green Fling: April 20th

Join us in supporting the Marin School of Environmental Leadership at our annual Green Fling Gala on Friday, April 20th, 2018 from 5:30 to 10:00 PM at Trek Winery. Our theme this year is Havana Nights! This is an evening to celebrate our school with fantastic food and drinks, live music, dancing, auction prizes, and a photo booth! Tickets Here!

Presale ends April 15th, so buy your tickets now!