Nature provides too many benefits for humans. We simply cannot gatekeep.
GUNNISON, Colorado: Growing up in a low-income Colorado household as the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States, Western Colorado University graduate student Miriam Olvera knows what it’s like to feel like certain outdoor activities are just out of reach, even when they’re right out the backdoor.
“You become hyperaware of ski trips or summer camps in the Rockies that your friends took but you never could,” she said. “My family spent plenty of time outdoors in our own way, like cookouts at the closest park, bike rides, or kite flying. But it wasn’t until I entered academia that I realized the barriers my family and plenty of others experience in the outdoors.”
Breaking Down Barriers
Now Olvera will have a leading role in helping to break down some of those barriers after she was recently chosen as the National Forest Foundation’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Fellow for 2023.
Olvera, who is in Western’s Outdoor Industry MBA program, was one of only 11 graduate students from across the country chosen for the National Forest Foundation (NFF) Conservation Connect Fellowship, and the only one conducting research exploring ways to increase equity in the availability to public lands and National Forests.
“I am simply overjoyed to be able to network and share space with folks in different areas of the outdoor industry and look forward to furthering my knowledge of the barriers some experience in outdoor spaces and how we can address those,” she said.
Fellowship Supports Research
The NFF Fellowship will help support Olvera’s research in several ways, like providing a networking retreat in Bigfork, Montana with the other Conservation Connect Fellows and a stipend through the end of August that will help her focus on her work. Olvera said she’ll also be able to stay connected with the other Fellows during monthly meetings that continue through May 2024 to share the results of their research.
The benefits of exposure to the natural world are well documented. Mental and physical health, increased attention span, and improvements in sleep are just a few. According to the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation, seventy percent of low-income communities across the country live in nature-deprived places, and communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to lack access to the benefits of being outside. Those are just a few of the myriad startling statistics about underrepresented groups in the outdoors that she’s hoping to change with her work.
Empowering Everyone to Be Outside
“I will be conducting research on approaches to increasing access and equity to public lands and National Forests. This research will include looking at case studies, scholarly texts, and my favorite part: interviewing folks who work in organizations dedicated to DEI in the outdoors,” she said. “For myself, my goal is to learn, learn, learn so that I can connect and empower folks with similar backgrounds to get into the great outdoors,” she said. “Nature provides too many benefits for humans. We simply cannot gatekeep.”
For more information about Western or the Outdoor Industry MBA program, visit western.edu.
About Western Colorado University
Established in 1901, Western is a four-year public institution in Gunnison, Colo. that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in over 100 areas of study. Our campus on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains is home to more than 2,000 resident students, while approximately 1,600 additional students take courses at the University remotely.
Author Credit: Seth Mensing
Photo Credit: Olivia Reinhardt