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Celebrating SWEP – DEC2023

SWEPt away at the 2023 Touchstone Reception

This year, I had the honor and privilege of attending the 2023 Touchstone Reception for the Great Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Women Environmental Professionals (SWEP). As a young professional, I am new to networking, but the theme – “Barbie’s Green Gala” – inspired incredible attire. This in turn was a great icebreaker for the many productive conversations I had that night. During cocktail hour, I was able to spend some time chatting with two of the scholarship winners, Ms. Rachel Roday and Ms. Janelle Edwards, about their research. Rachel is studying the movements of American shad in the Brandywine River for her master’s degree in marine biosciences and hopes to use those data to determine how the removal of dams in the Brandywine affect shad habitat use. Many people do not realize how important one species of fish may be to an ecosystem, but Rachel regularly reports her research to various stakeholders.

Janelle, meanwhile, is a doctoral student of public health studying morbidity patterns in Philadelphia; she aspires to incorporate structural racism into the social vulnerability indices used for environmental justice trackers. Her passion called to mind Ms. Amani Reid, a Coordinator in the Office of Environmental Justice who spoke at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Regulatory Update held by SWEP in August, and I was able to connect with them through LinkedIn. The third scholarship winner, Ms. Kisha Grady, is also a public health doctoral student at Temple University focusing on environmental justice, especially for workers of color. She also manages two health and safety programs at Temple, committing herself wholeheartedly to the safety of herself and others. As someone who has not pursued post-graduate education, I admire all three scholarship winners for their dedication to researching and advancing their respective fields.   

In addition to scholarships, three grants were also awarded that night. Get Fresh Daily is an organization that runs a community garden in Philadelphia to help maintain connection among residents in an area of the city facing drug use, gun violence, and systemic racism. They plan to use their grant to fund an after-school program for children in the area to learn about gardening, camping, and mindfulness. Friends of Burlington Island will use their grant to recruit young women for a program called “Where Does Trash Go in the Streets of a River Town,” a multi-day excursion that teaches young women about water quality, the beauty of nature, and how their actions affect the environment. Finally, West Mount Airy Neighbors plans to use their grant to restore the area around the Carpenter Lane Train Station for community engagement purposes, including outreach and education programs for local schools. I was so glad to see a focus on community outreach among the grant winners, especially in teaching today’s youth about the importance of the environment.

Our keynote speaker was Ms. Miranda Moore. She is a Certified Environmental Engineer (EIT), a Sustainability Professional (ENV-SP), and Miss Pennsylvania. If I’m honest, I didn’t realize she was an environmental professional until I caught her short biography on the slideshow during cocktail hour, and I found myself quite curious about her path to this point. As we mingled, my colleagues and I had the chance to chat with her, discussing our backgrounds, Barbie (of course), and most importantly, the environment.

Contrary to popular depictions of pageants on shows like “Toddlers in Tiaras,” Miranda entered her first pageant as an adult and found both that she enjoyed it and that it was a great avenue for the advocacy that she wanted to do. Since winning the title of Miss Pennsylvania, Miranda has used her platform to campaign for sustainability in the fashion industry through her nonprofit, Take Action in Fashion. As part of this mission, she’s visited schools across the state to teach K-12 students about the importance of protecting the environment and those who create the clothes we wear.

I realized throughout our conversation that I, and probably many others, had the same knee-jerk reaction to seeing her, and one that she told us she’s been on the receiving end of: “Why are you here?” The fact that people have asked that of her based on what they see, and not who she is as a smart, capable professional, was a much-needed wake-up call for me. We all loved Barbie so much, and yet we still miss the mark so often, automatically judging anyone or anything feminine or woman-centered at face value. Through her keynote speech, Miranda showed us all that titles like Miss Pennsylvania are so much more meaningful than being a pretty face, and I think it’s safe to say she inspired us to truly embrace every facet of ourselves.

Throughout the program we heard from so many amazing women, and still there was one more! Ms. Kelly Lee Kinkaid, the Touchstone Awardee herself, is a Professional Geologist who has spent over 35 years working in both the public and private sectors. Her speech was inspiring, relaying how she grew into her career without female role models and subsequently became one to those entering the field after her. She spoke of how important it is to lead by serving those around you and encouraging them to challenge themselves. Her passion doesn’t end at her work, however; she is also involved in community service, as well as a number of personal hobbies. Ms. Kinkaid’s speech was so encouraging, her commitment to being not only a great Geologist, but also a great person, is something to which we should all aspire.

All in all, the 2023 Touchstone Reception was a wonderful night of networking, connection, and inspiration. I can’t wait to attend next year’s reception and get to know even more of the SWEP community!