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Turning Passion Into Action: James Stillwell

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Maryland chapter.

In 1989, when the Exxon Valdez oil spill pumped oil into the lush waterway near Alaska, 7-year-old James Stillwell watched on TV as aquatic life was dying as a result. This planted a passion for the environment at a young age, spurring a life of environmental advocacy for Stillwell.

Stillwell attended Harvard University, earning his undergraduate degree in urban studies with a minor in French. He completed his Master’s degrees at the University of Maryland in environmental policy and sustainable development and conservation biology.

“I wanted to understand not just the science behind climate change, but also how to advocate for change in the political arena,” said Stillwell.

Most recently, Stillwell has worked as the assistant director of the Public Leadership Scholars Program at UMD. But just over a month before the 2015-16 school year began, Stillwell was offered his “dream job” as the program manager for the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.

The current position has given Stillwell the opportunity to attend the World Climate Summit currently happening in Paris, where he will be able to observe negotiations as representatives of countries from all over the world seek to agree on a set of sustainable development goals.

“My work there [in Paris] is starting to build the infrastructure for how UMD is going to be a leader in global climate change implementation post-Paris,” shared Stillwell.

And here’s what’s really exciting for UMD: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has just announced that the University of Maryland will be co-hosting Climate Action 2016 on May 5-6 of next year. Stillwell has been working closely with Dr. Bob Orr, Dean of the School of Public Policy and special advisor to the UN secretary-general on climate change, to bring Climate Action to our campus.

“So, my job is to support the Dean as he makes all this happen,” explained Stillwell. “He had the vision for UMD’s role.”

Stillwell will also be supervising a group of student interns that will be helping coordinate the event and engage the community.

“What matters to me is that I think we live in a pretty amazing world, where human beings live in community and work together. I have an amazing faith in human capacity for creativity and love. I see climate change as one of the biggest threats to this world that I love so much.”