Andrea Santolim Geller and Laura Rumfelt want to defend future generations of North Carolinians from climate change, and they are starting at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Geller and Rumfelt are campus ambassadors for Defend Our Future (DOF), a program of the Environmental Defense Fund and a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering young people concerned about climate change to promote clean energy solutions that grow the economy while protecting the environment. While the project has 28 ambassadors on 15 campuses across the nation, Geller and Rumfelt are the first in North Carolina.
“I think that Defend Our Future is a great opportunity for students to participate in the discussion about environmental policies,” Geller said during an interview under the shade of an Eastern Redbud tree on the UNCG campus.
A graduate of Greensboro’s Weaver Academy, Geller is now a “super senior” political science major at UNCG after previously attending Appalachian State as an art major.
“State and private institutions have been increasingly involved in making decisions with climate solutions, but the federal government, and specifically Congress, have a greater responsibility that they often ignore,” Geller explained. “Defend Our Future allows students to advocate that Congress hone in on those issues by funding innovative technologies and decreasing legislative limitations on how institutions utilize sustainable infrastructure in their buildings, systems, and equipment. So, that’s what I hope to accomplish as a DOF ambassador.”
Rumfelt, a senior political science major with pre-Law focus and a Spanish minor, transferred to UNCG from the Early College at Forsyth Technical Community College and has plans to become an Immigration Attorney.
“I know that’s far away from the environment, right? But when Andrea offered me this opportunity to join Defend Our Future, I thought about how the environment impacts everyone,” Rumfelt said. “For instance, if the sea levels rise, more people are dislocated, which means I’ll be dealing with more people in crisis. No matter what your interest or passion is, it all comes back to protecting the earth.”
Rumfelt grew up in Kernersville and already had experience with lobbying at Forsyth Tech. “I’m so glad DOF is reaching out to students, who they know are the next generation, to advocate for an issue of environmental justice.”
Geller, a member of UNCG’s Lloyd Honors College and the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, first learned about the organization on a 2019 trip to Washington D.C. with 15 other political science majors. “We were there for three weeks, and we met senators, lobbyists, and people from a variety of organizations. One who really impressed me is Joe Bonfiglio, President of EDF Action, the Environmental Defense Fund’s 501(c)4 sister-organization. That’s when I realized that I particularly wanted to get involved with legislation, which is what Defend Our Future and the Environmental Defense Fund really are about.”
Geller said that DOF Manager Jonathan Soohoo, who directs the students at each university chapter, contacted UNCG political science professor, David Holian, and asked if he knew any students who might be interested in starting a chapter.
“This happened as the [COVID-19] shut-down began, so I ended up being the only person who responded to that email at the time. Jonathan asked me if I knew anyone else who would be interested.”
“When she approached me, I was a little bit trepidatious,” Rumfelt replied, “as I had a lot of other responsibilities. I think what made me say yes is that this is a such an important thing. The planet is going through a lot right now, and our congressmen and women aren’t doing much at all, as we discovered in meetings with their staffers.”
Rumfelt had nothing but praise for her recruiter. “You sometimes meet people in life who end up helping you find your destiny. I think Andrea is one of those people for me.”
“I would definitely agree that Laura is that person for me as well,” said Geller, who then spoke about being shaped by her heritage.
“Having spent the first half of my childhood on a tropical island in Brazil, and the second half in Greensboro has given me some perspective on what’s important about the world and what we need to be doing. But one thing I can appreciate about the U.S. is knowing that, in Brazil, I would not have had the ability or opportunity to go into political science in college or participate in a federally based organization at the age of 22. I would not have been able to network with important leadership at such a young age.”
Rumfelt is also extremely thankful. “With COVID-19, everyone is so uncertain. A lot of college students have problems with the government because we don’t get a stimulus check. But I think that being able to work with a nationally-recognized organization that’s under the Environmental Defense Fund shows us that certain departments of the government truly do care about my generation. It’s important that, no matter how scary times may be, people our age keep spreading their passion and love to influence the community around them.”