Reviving Student Activism by philanthropy

Christopher Almaraz (left) and Aina Smart Truco (right)
Christopher Almaraz (left) and Aina Smart Truco (right)

By Ashley Han

UC Davis’ inaugural Green Fellows are highlighting student activism at UC Davis through art. Aina Smart Truco ’19 and Christopher Almaraz ’20 received the Green Fellowship last year to fund projects each proposed about past and current activists on campus – Truco created a documentary film and Almaraz created an interactive timeline.

Christopher Almaraz's interactive timeline at the Whole Earth Festival
Almaraz displayed his multimedia art display at this year's Whole Earth Festival showcasing the evolution of student-led initiatives towards social justice and sustainable technologies. 

“The Green Fellowship is important because through our projects, we’re able to show students that they are paradigm shifters, the change makers who will seek and start initiatives on campus,” Almaraz said.

Alumni who were active in campus activities in the ’80s founded the Green Fellowship and Sustainable Living and Learning Communities (SLLC) on the occasion of the 50th Whole Earth Festival. Lead donor, Poppy Davis ’88, and a growing group of alumni strive to give students more freedom to explore student-led advancements of social justice, sustainable technology and environmental sustainability.

This fellowship gives direct financial support for student fees, $4,000 for each fellow, and supplemental funds to cover supplies and expenses, up to $2,500 each.

“I was really excited to take my work to the next level outside a traditional course,” Truco said. “Interviewing these incredible activists was so inspiring and empowering because my documentary project is also bringing awareness and addressing changes on campus.”   

Almaraz researched the evolution of student-led initiatives towards social justice and sustainable technologies from the ’60s to today along with Truco’s help. He curated a multimedia art display that includes physical and visual images, artifacts, activities and video and audio footage. Truco and Almaraz shared their work with donors at the Student Farm Ecological Garden and hosted an educational booth at this year’s 50th Whole Earth Festival.  

Recurring positive change

Truco and Almaraz shared their Green Fellows projects with donors at the Student Ecological Garden
Truco and Almaraz shared their Green Fellows projects with donors at the Student Farm Ecological Garden and hosted an educational booth at this year’s 50th Whole Earth Festival.  

Most Green Fellowship donors were very involved on campus during their student years, either working at the Student Farm, living at the Domes or organizing the Whole Earth Festival. Today, the fellows are similarly involved.

Truco lives at the Domes – a place she loves – and Almaraz enjoys being able to volunteer at the Student Farm and explore his passion for food justice.

“As a transfer student, I knew I had to hit the ground running and network,” Almaraz said. “I heard about the Green Fellowship after attending a Student Farm welcome event.”

Truco was encouraged to apply for the fellowship by Assistant Professor David de la Peña, who teaches landscape architecture and sustainable environmental design in the Department of Human Ecology. Being active and connecting with faculty on campus has allowed Truco and Almaraz to successfully complete their Green Fellows projects and has influenced their future career aspirations.

“This project really challenged the conversation for me around sustainability and who’s actually making radical change,” Truco said. “With these conversations in mind, I hope to keep being active and getting involved in the ways that the fellowship helped me get involved.”

The fellows are working with computer science students to create a website where their projects and future Green Fellow projects will live.   

“My future consists of going back into communities and developing the means that people need like cooperative housing, communal kitchens, technical and trade schools and childcare,” Almaraz said. “Philanthropy and this fellowship financially supported me to take on initiatives and pursue my goals, so I can later engage with issues pertaining to my own community.”

Learn how you can give to the Green Fellowship and Friends of the SLLC here.

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