WASHINGTON -- Amongst those who were selected for the 2021 prestigious Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship is Aissa Dearing, a junior in the COAS Environmental Studies program and Durham, NC native. The exciting announcement was posted recently to the Howard University Newsroom, with a quote from Ralph J. Bunche Center, who administers fellowship awards:
“The Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship is designed to support students who are committed to a future as global leaders. With the success of the last cohort, we know only good things will come from the outstanding new cohort of PRH Fellows!” said Tonija Hope Navas.
The PRH fellowship was named after the first Howard alum to hold a U.S. cabinet position. The competitive year-long fellowship provides its recipients with early exposure to the field of public affairs and engagement through professional development, and a paid summer internship opportunity. Fellows have the opportunity to be paired with mentors who are foriegn diplomats, residing in the DC metropolitan area. This year all programs will be conducted remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. To learn more about the legacy of the Patricia Roberts Harris fellowship and how it prepares students for a career in public affairs, check out the fellowship’s informational page here.
Aissa Dearing-Benton, despite having just graduated high school in 2020, is already an accomplished scholar, in her junior year at Howard University. Dearing attended an early college high school program where she was able to take college courses at North Carolina Central University. She is currently a double major in History and Environmental Science at Howard. She is incredibly passionate about environmental justice work and the climate crisis-- not just the science but its social implications, in particular. Aissa strongly believes that climate change will remain the number one priority on the legislative agenda for the rest of our lives. Given the severity and scope of the crisis, she is Interested in analyzing climate issues through a race, class and health lens. In fact, it is her background in climate and environmental justice that led her to apply for the Patricia Robert Hariis fellowship.
During her time in high school, Aissa made service work in her community a top priority. She co-founded the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative (DYCJI) to fill the gap of intentional, safe spaces in her hometown for youth of color who were interested in climate organizing. She knew that environmental justice issues were pertinent in Durham and that young people cared about the issue but faced barriers accessing the movement. The DYCJI was a place where lived experience with environmental issues were centered over statistics, and participants were community members and youth, not just experts. The topics that they discussed encompassed policing, transit, community cohesion and energy access. The forum has hosted at least 10 youth-led conversations in Durham around these intersectional issues over the past year.
Due to the pandemic, Dearing has yet to attend Howard in-person, however she stumbled across the PRH fellowship through the Ralph J Bunch Center’s website, seeking study abroad opportunities aligned with her interests. She is actively looking for ways to engage in international environmental policy work that will allow her to analyze and explore foreign energy and climate policy, particularly in Latin America. While she hopes that her RPH internship will be abroad this summer, right now Dearing is most excited about the mentorship component of the fellowship where she hopes to connect with distinguished diplomats such as Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, founder of Women Advancing Peace, Security & Conflict, an organization based here in Washington, DC.