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Ramon Cruz was born in 1976. He grew in Puerto Rico â€“ an island where the rainforest and ocean allowed him to develop an awareness of biodiversity issues at an early age. Living on a small island like Puerto Rico allowed Cruz to understand the concept of limited natural resources. His mother, a marine biology teacher, helped him to understand the dynamics of natural systems. As a result, Cruz became keenly interested in the environment as a young boy.
Cruz is also interested in social issues as. He considers himself a liberal and feels that the environment is one of the most important concerns for his generation. To be an effective activist for both people and the environment, he wanted to be knowledgeable about the issues. As an undergraduate at American University in Washington, D.C., Cruz was awarded a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. The goal of the fellowship was to provide students of color greater access to various educational opportunities. The fellowship allowed Cruz to intern in Brasilia, Brazil for a year. During the internship, he was able to take graduate courses and conduct research. He collaborated with the Esquel Group to study studied methods of monitoring desertification that used socioeconomic indicators.
Cruz graduated from American University and received a bachelorâ€™s degree in international development and history. He got dual masterâ€™s degrees in public policy (with an emphasis on environmental policy) and urban planning from Princeton University. The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship funded one year of his masterâ€™s degree. Having this fellowship was very gratifying. It prevented him from incurring a large debt; because he did not have overwhelming loan repayment obligations, he could consider going into public service upon graduation. Cruz explored that possibility and was offered a position with a government agency. The timing, however, could have been better. His job offer coincided with President Bushâ€™s stay in office and the declining influence of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Given these considerations, Cruz declined the position with the agency; he did not think he could be content working in a place where he â€œcouldnâ€™t disclose proper scientific dataâ€ because of political pressure. Working in the private sector was not a high priority for him at the time either.
Throughout his academic and professional career, Cruz has received great advice and encouragement from various people in his life. One of these people, a woman involved in the Latin American struggles during the 1960S, encouraged him to pursue his interest in environmental work. Cruz attributes his lifeâ€™s direction to her. One of his history professors at American University was also a source of inspiration. He supported Cruzâ€™s commitment to social issues and helped him to think critically about people of color in society. Cruzâ€™s also cites his supervisor at the Caribbean Environment and Development Institute in Puerto Rico with motivating him to focus on politics and social change. Lastly, Cruz credits a former chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) with helping him to seek a position with the organization. This scientist encouraged Cruz to apply for a job after the two met at Princeton. Cruz took his advice and currently works as a Policy Analyst at EDF. He is happy with his decision to work at Environmental Defense, and says that â€œit feels good to be in a big organization where people listen to youâ€¦â€
In his position, Cruz conducts policy analysis in the Living Cities program and spends a portion of his time with the Oceanâ€™s program, working on Caribbean coastal development and sustainable practices. Additionally, he has been nominated for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's environmental justice advisory group, which advises the state on environmental justice policy. He is also part of the Environmental Justice Committee as well as the Staff Advisory Committee at EDF. Both committees support his vision of helping minorities join the environmental movement. â€œOne of my goals has been to foster [the inclusion of] more people of color within the organization and to be more proactive on issues affecting minority communities.â€
Cruz knows how important mentoring is to the development of young students, and he participates in an annual Princeton-based weekend mentorship opportunity. He stays in touch with some of the students who meets through this program, and sends them information on career opportunities from time to time. He has also been able to speak to many Latino college students at the annual conferences hosted by the National Hispanic Environmental Council. In addition, Cruz has participated in the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Scienceâ€™s annual conference, and the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit.
Besides mentoring, there have been other exciting moments during Cruzâ€™s career. For instance, he says that â€œworking at Viequez [Puerto Rico] was inspirational.â€ Cruz was one of the protestors jailed during the campaign against the Naval Ammunition Facility on Viequez Island; he later organized a conference about it at Princeton. He was also able to meet Jesse Jackson during the protests. Cruz is excited about one of his current projects, working with the New York City Council. According to Cruz, the project has allowed him to establish contact with people in the New York Cityâ€™s mayorâ€™s office. He says, â€œâ€¦itâ€™s exciting to have a connection to decision makers.â€ The same project now puts him in almost-daily meetings with members of the city council, during which he briefs them on a solid waste system policy that heâ€™s worked on. He has been able to lobby hard for something that has a chance to become reality. Reporters often call him for quotes. Cruz believes that â€œitâ€™s not just one thing [that is the high point of my career]...but a culmination of many.â€
Likewise, Cruz cannot identify one particularly low point in his career. In general, his career has been rising. At 29 years of age, he is still young and has only had five to six years of work experience. However, he does admit that conflicts stemming from the social dynamics of the workplace do arise from time to time. He also says there are times when it is hard to deal with the â€œvoiceâ€ or the opinions of some people in the organization who are very powerful and influential. In addition to being one of the youngest junior staff in the organization, Cruz is the only person of color and one of few people on staff with an accent. He is always aware of these differences and says that â€œYou do often feel prejudice from others, butâ€¦[having characteristics that make you stand out] impacts how confident you feel about yourself while in a group.â€
For Cruz, a strong commitment to thinking that the struggle for environmental protection and equality is necessary has kept him going in a place like New York City. He listens to his conscience, and he knows that he is doing the right thing for himself and for society; these convictions allow him to stick to his career path. He wants to be consistent in his career choices in order to become influential enough to one day have a â€œvoiceâ€ that can make a difference.
When asked what advice he would give to other minorities considering a career in the environment Cruz says, â€œGet a good grounding in the issuesâ€¦scientific evidence. Ultimately this route [an environmental career] is an option too...not just those professions that allow you to move up on the socialâ€¦economic ladder.â€ He wants to stress that â€œthe environmentâ€ also includes urban issues â€œâ€¦it isnâ€™t just conservation or recycling. Environmental justice is also important. This niche represents an opportunity, a challengeâ€¦there is a lot to do hereâ€¦remember that [as a minority] you bring a different perspective that others in this field typically donâ€™t hear or see.â€
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