The Results are In: ACE Action Fellowship Puts Youth on Pathway of Climate Leadership

At ACE, we’ve always known that our leadership development program has a profound impact on students’ lives and future pathways. We’ve heard directly from students, teachers, parents and community leaders that youth in our leadership network are optimistic, courageous and empowered when it comes to creating lasting solutions to climate change in their communities.

We’ve heard from young leaders like ACE alumna Chloe Maxmin— who’s now leading divestment work at Harvard College — that our education and leadership programs have a profound impact on them .

We’ve witnessed our leaders taking action. Afsana Akter of Brooklyn has called for a resolution to mandate climate education in NYC schools. Jonny Behrens, who interned at EPA Headquarters in Washington D.C. last summer, worked on the landmark Clean Power Plan legislation, for which youth leaders from our network testified in support.

We’ve had great anecdotal stories to share with our supporters, but hadn’t formally tested the efficacy of our leadership development program with a cohort of youth. That’s why last year we decided to move forward with a pilot study to measure the impact of our yearlong leadership program, the Action Fellowship.

Having evaluated the results of our education program, the ACE Assembly, we knew we had the experience needed to administer the survey to a pilot cohort of Action Fellows from across the United States. With support from June Flora at Stanford University, we built a survey program that combined a traditional paper exit survey with an in-person focus group.

We surveyed a sample of 11 Action Fellows from Chicago, Reno and Los Angeles. 73 percent of respondents identified as female, while 27 percent identified as male. 47 percent identified as having Hispanic or Latino race or origin, 27 percent identified as Asian, 19 percent as African American, and 9 percent as multi-racial.

Our findings were encouraging. Of those surveyed:

  • 82% had spoken to one or more people about global warming in the past two weeks.
  • 82% said they had spoken to an elected official about climate change; 55% reported doing this more since being involved with the Action Fellowship program.
  • 100% said it is likely that they will vote for a pro-climate candidate when they vote.
  • 73% said they have signed a petition or joined a climate campaign more than once with 100% of those reporting that they do this more since participating in the Action Fellowship program.
  • 100% said they are attending or will attend a 2-year or 4-year university after high school.
  • 63% percent were influenced by ACE in deciding to go to college.
  • 45% plan to major in STEM fields and an additional 27% in Environmental Studies.
  • 63% were influenced by ACE in choosing their future field of study in college, of those, 45% were highly or very influenced by ACE.

Although just a pilot survey, we see that ACE has a direct impact on the current attitudes and behavior of our students, particularly in the realms of communication and civic engagement. ACE also positively influences students to pursue an educational and career path related to climate in the future.

We also heard from students directly during focus groups we hosted, which helped us measure the program’s qualitative impact. We asked, “Do any particular emotions come up for you when you think about this time working with ACE?” The students’ responses were heartening and inspiring.

One participant responded, “I would say a feeling of empowerment. We grow up hearing that our parents believe in us and we can do anything, but ACE gave us a way to do that...that we have more power than we give ourselves credit for. We can implement the lessons we learned from ACE elsewhere. ACE showed us how much we can actually change.”

Another participant responded, “ACE gives me hope. This is specifically an organization about climate change and youth empowerment. It gives me hope that students can come to a place where people are skilled in both of these areas. It has put me on a road to continue with climate education.”

This fall, ACE expands our pilot survey program to all regions in which we operate. ACE will recruit and train more than 70 Action Fellows this year in Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Raleigh, and Reno. We will engage all program participants in a pre and post survey as well as an exit focus group. Research findings will be made available in summer 2015.

Do you want to invest in a climate leadership program that works? Support ACE.


Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson is ACE’s Director of Education. She came to ACE in its inception in 2008. Rebecca develops ACE's science content, manages the online climate education resource Our Climate Our Future, oversees the ACE Teacher Network, and works with schools in the Reno-Tahoe area. Prior to ACE, she did paleoclimate research in the Arctic and Antarctica.