Introducing AIR Scholars

Introducing AIR Scholars

New ideas and innovations have always moved the dial on societal advancement—from science to art and culture. However, rapid progress without consideration for the environment has come with a cost. Enter climate change. As the next generation of youth assumes the burden of our rapidly changing climate, classrooms and education will be pivotal in driving conversations, fostering ideas and piloting actionable solutions. At AIR COMPANY, we’re investing in their future with AIR Scholars—a summer internship program for high school students from historically disadvantaged communities. The program is designed to build a community of youth, academia and innovators working towards a more sustainable, just and equitable future.

The AIR Scholars program was first piloted in the summer of 2022 to raise awareness about the unequal distribution of climate burdens in communities of color and low-income households by engaging directly with students from those areas. Stemming from a long history of racial discrimination in housing and zoning practices, these communities were often forced to live near environmental hazards (i.e., toxic waste facilities, incinerators and Superfund sites) that impact long-term health and livelihood overall. For example, the Bronx, burdened with power plants and waste management systems, consistently accounts for the highest rates of asthma-related hospitalizations and deaths when compared to the city’s other four boroughs; these neighborhoods experience high poverty and overwhelmingly consist of people of color.

“The program underscored that climate change isn’t just a matter of science or politics—it’s deeply personal and ethical.”

– Leah Dasliva, Cohort 1

As a New York-based company, we recognize that certain areas of our backyard in Brooklyn suffer from historic underinvestment and pollution due to decades of industrial siting policies. We’re dedicated to environmental justice (EJ) and providing these communities with a voice and tools. AIR Scholars was born to support EJ efforts in NYC and, hopefully, beyond. For six weeks, our AIR Scholars pilot program welcomed five high school students from the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE) to work alongside us as Environmental Justice Research Interns. Guided by Dr. Jesse John, a Geochemistry PhD and high school educator, and Dr. Carolyn Kissane, the founding Director of the SPS Energy, Climate Justice and Sustainability Lab at NYU, students learned how to dissect peer-reviewed literature, which allowed them to engage in thought-provoking discourse around environmental justice and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies.

Our goal with the AIR Scholars program is relatively simple: to show students that there is a wide variety of careers available in the climate field. Cohort 1 consisted of four rising seniors and one rising junior from Brooklyn, each in a pivotal transition phase in their lives. These students were beginning to think deeply about their potential career paths. From environmental science to marketing and communications, the AIR Scholars were exposed to the ways their skills and interests can be explored within the climate and sustainability fields.

The students’ day-to-day varied, with time split between facilities tours, literature review, SAT and college application preparation and one-to-one professional development mentorship with an AIR COMPANY teammate. Our Scholars developed critical thinking, writing and presentation skills, which resulted in the publishing of a peer-reviewed paper in iScience (an academic journal) that synthesized their summer research findings. The research brief changes yearly, but Cohort 1 looked at the intersections between environmental justice and racism, climate change and CCUS technologies. The paper is titled AIR Scholars program: A framework for empowering future generations to address climate change and dissects case studies and answers questions that explore responsibility, burden and community involvement in decision-making. It also includes reflections from the program administrators and mentors on the structure of the program and their experiences collaborating with AIR Scholars.

“The program underscored that climate change isn’t just a matter of science or politics—it’s deeply personal and ethical.” – Leah Dasliva, Cohort 1 

“Before joining the AIR Scholars program, I didn’t realize the extent of the environmental racism and injustice that exists in our communities.” – Kianni Vestal, Cohort 1 

“The program heightened my awareness of the repercussions of climate change on marginalized communities globally.” – Alifa Alam, Cohort 1 

“The diverse career opportunities in the climate industry became clear to me through the AIR Scholars program. Beyond the technical side, there’s a need for marketing, operations and education to maximize the impact of CCUS technologies.” – Anthony Buchfuhrer, Cohort 1 

“The AIR Scholars program has taught me that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a social justice issue that disproportionately affects communities of color.” - Fatima Hashem, Cohort 1.

The AIR Scholars program has continued to flourish in the years since its launch. In 2023, we expanded the program, welcoming Cohort 2 with seven pupils from BASE and the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media (IAM HS). Following the same structure as Cohort 1, these students studied EJ and CCUS but focused primarily on designing hydroponics systems to address food insecurity in Brooklyn, NY. 

The AIR Scholars program is a unique example of how companies can foster productive and community-oriented initiatives. We’re thrilled to be building the next generation of climate leaders in our ever-changing world, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish.

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