Junior takes a multi-dimensional approach to environmental justice

February 24, 2022

McKenna Dunbar is working to fight the effects of climate change from every angle.

At just 12 years old, Dunbar and their robotics team developed a floating flood booth equipped with resources needed during a natural disaster and submitted their design for a patent. Then, as a sophomore in high school, they helped organize a protest against a major pipeline — one that environmentally degraded indigenous territories out West — in front of the major bank that financially supported it.

Now a junior at UR, their efforts remain multi-dimensional. Dunbar is majoring in business and environmental studies with a minor in anthropology, and has set their sights on becoming a global renewable energy leader.

"It's a great time for young people to get involved in this field," Dunbar said. "Technology has finally caught up to sustainable practices, and the general community mindset has evolved to accept the idea of renewable energy. I think a lot is going to change very quickly."

Last year, Dunbar and senior Indya Woodfolk received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace Grant to support an environmental justice project in Portsmouth, Virginia.

The two Spiders conducted an energy audit for 35 families to educate them about their energy costs. They also hosted a three-week environmental education program to teach area high school students to recognize and advocate against environmental injustices. And, they provided residents with energy-efficient light bulbs, water-efficient shower heads, solar-powered path lights, reusable bags, and more.

The project reflects Dunbar's biggest passion: uniting marginalized communities around a common goal. Working at the intersection of government, community, and financing, they want to equip community members to take the lead on their own projects to combat environmental disparities and other injustices.

"I want to commit my career to public service and stewardship, to bringing communities together to foster a more equitable world," Dunbar said. "Climate justice is inextricably connected to racial justice. You can't fight one without the other."