Meet the Coastal Leadership Program's Inaugural Cohort!

They're building a community of coastal leaders

Buena Vista Lagoon Photo: Sydney Walsh/Audubon

Meet our inaugural cohort of the Coastal Leadership Program, and learn why they're excited to start building a community of coastal leaders!

The mission of the Coastal Leadership Program is to foster a safe, inclusive environment where participants can explore their passions, be part of a supportive community dedicated to making a difference, and acquire the skills needed to address the impacts of climate change on coastal habitats.

Pictured from top left to bottom right: Flip, Valeree, Alexander, Rujin, Jasmine.

Flip Sarta is a queer artist and storyteller from upstate NY who has been in LA for 2.5 years. He currently works in the animation industry and organizes charity comics readings with his art community. He's just started his very first isopod terrarium—with powder orange isopods—and is very excited about it. Flip loves audiobooks and podcasts and has most recently been listening to Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, Northwoods by Daniel Mason, and Drifting Off with Joe Pera. He is excited to join this program for so many reasons, and he's eager to gain first-hand knowledge from experts in the field and combine it with his art and storytelling background for the sake of environmental activism.

Valeree is a visual artist, sustainability strategist, and new birder! She often spends her time thinking about ecological relationships and sustainable solutions with an environmental justice and equity lens. Her first formative experience with birds was participating in a field research trip on the endangered Whooping Crane in Texas when she was 16. Fun fact: Valeree loves punk rock music. She is excited to join this program to learn about coastal bird conservation and be in the community. She attended UCLA and studied environmental science.

Alexander has been birding most of his life. He leads bird walks for San Fernando Valley Audubon, teaches classes for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, and bands birds at Bear Divide. He is always happy to talk about birds and share his knowledge—this ties into his autism, as he is extremely awkward unless he's talking about birds. Alexander is excited to join this program because he'll be able to learn a lot about the coastal ecosystems of Southern California and get to know the other spectacular birders in the area.

Rujin is a third-year Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution major at UCLA. As an Audubon campus chapter leader at the Bruin Birding Club, she actively contributes to conservation projects and educational events on campus and is dedicated to building a welcoming birdwatching environment. Beyond her academic pursuits, she enjoys TRPGs (Tactical Role Playing Games), drawing, and gaming. Rujin has always believed that building connections with the general public is a key step in successful conservation. She is excited to further improve herself in communicating science and to connect with the conservation science community in California through the program!

Jasmine developed an early affinity with ecology by spending lots of time exploring the outdoors of her native Georgia home. Learning about the threats of anthropogenic climate change to Georgia wildlife ignited a resolute passion for environmental protection in her. In 2017, Jasmine moved to Los Angeles to study environmental studies at the University of Southern California. She has since focused on businesses' responsibility to mitigate climate change—with a particular interest in opportunities within the global textile sector. Jasmine is very excited to learn more about coastal ecology, get her hands dirty with fieldwork, and meet like-minded people through this program!

Pictured from top left to bottom right: Gicela, Jennifer, Nathan, Bii, Stella.
Pictured from top left to bottom right: Gicela, Jennifer, Nathan, Bii, Stella.

Gicela is passionate about the interconnected relationships between people, animals, and the land. Their passion for environmental justice and urban geography stems from growing up as an Indigenous Oaxacan in Central Los Angeles. By virtue of their upbringing, they believe inner-city, low-income youth of color deserve the right to access the outdoors for physical, educational, and social development. She joins the Coastal Leadership Program to further develop her leadership and birding skills, and gain a deeper understanding of LA’s urban ecology.

Jennifer is thrilled to be part of the Coastal Leadership Program because she loves the seashore and ocean more than anything—and she’s excited to use her comics and illustrations to tell stories that advocate for shorebirds and the precious coastal ecosystems they call home.

Coming from a community and labor-organizing background, Nathan has a deep passion for connecting communities of color to nature. Nathan aims to better connect high school youth to the coast after completing the Coastal Leadership Program. Nathan is also an avid Dodgers fan.

Bii Gallardo (they/them) is an Apache/Yaqui queer student, born and raised in Tongva Territory (North East Los Angeles). They currently major in Biology at East Los Angeles College and aspire to achieve a Bachelor's Degree in Marine Science. Bii is passionate about building community, of both human and non-human relatives, and advocates for centering Indigenous Land Stewardship and Traditional Ecological Knowledge in environmental conservation practices. They are excited to participate in the Audubon Coastal Leadership Program to explore the conservation field, gain hands-on experience in restoration projects, and build community with folks who are also passionate about the environment and coastal ecosystems.

Stella Oganesyan is a first-generation Armenian-American and college student who recently graduated from UCLA with a BA in Anthropology and minors in Conservation Biology and Linguistics. She is interested in ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as making scientific knowledge accessible to wider audiences. She aims to earn a Master's or PhD in Biology to pursue a career in conservation. Stella is most excited to join this program to learn about coastal issues and how to effectively communicate these issues with her local communities to inspire action.


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