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The Athletic Activist

News Story

Women’s basketball member Kendra Cooper-Smith ’23 comes from a family of activists, and she’s all about challenging herself both on and off the court. That’s why she was recently named a 2020 Millennium Fellow!

Environmental studies major Kendra Cooper-Smith ’23 is hands-on when it comes to her efforts in protecting the environment and enriching her communities, and early on, she knew what she wanted when choosing what college to attend. “Pace was one that stood out as a top contender because of [its] close-knit environmental program,” she told us, adding that being chosen for the women’s basketball team was also a huge plus.

Choosing a major came naturally to her, too—but for reasons bigger than herself. “I think it is certainly difficult to be a member of Gen Z and not care about environmental issues,” she told us. “As climate change, global warming, environmental injustice, ecological destruction, and species degradation continues to worsen every week, I believe so many are feeling this instinctive pull toward being a part of instrumental change.” Cooper-Smith said her family are all activists too, and she learned the importance of challenging ideas of oppression and inequity from them.

It’s that level of passion and dedication for environmental issues that has fueled much of Cooper-Smith’s academic work, including her project on nutrient cycles and policy implementation, a species report on the fauna native to the Hudson Valley, and more. She also worked as an ecological monitoring intern at the Stone Barns Center where she collected samples, ran tests, completed field work, and strategized solutions to problems—just to name a few responsibilities. “What motivates me most when continuing to learn about the vastness of the environmental field is the constant call-to-action,” Cooper-Smith said. “I have found that my courses, experiences (both in and out of the classroom), and networking that I have accomplished has all been extremely illuminating.”

And her efforts have certainly been noticed. Cooper-Smith was recently named a 2020 Millennium Fellow, a prestigious and competitive award from the United Nations Academic Impact and Millennium Campus Network (MCN), supports students in the specific goals they presented for their campus and community.

“I am now a member of an amazing community of young progressive thinkers and global citizens working their hardest to implement their image of necessary change,” Cooper-Smith enthused. “I feel extremely lucky to have the platform to speak about my chosen Social Development Goal (SDG) with a myriad of fantastic resources provided by MCN.” Her own SDG project will focus on water eutrophication through the lower Hudson Valley. “[It] will be the most rewarding part of this entire journey,” she told us.

But Cooper-Smith’s dedication to her community doesn’t stop there. As a member of the women’s basketball team, she also served as the president of the Dobbs Athletic Association. There, Cooper-Smith organized fundraisers and events, facilitated meetings and focus groups, and even increased membership among women by 20 percent in 2019 through dedicated campaigning. “Basketball has always served as a safe haven for me, especially from middle through high school,” Cooper-Smith explained. “[It] has taught me much about my own abilities as a leader and an athlete. Without basketball and the lessons I have learned from coaches, trainers, and teammates over the past nine years, I don’t think I would possess the same kind of self-awareness and receptivity to change.”

We’re so excited to see how her latest project comes together, and what positive change she effects in the process. Did you know she’s really into makeup, though? “As a queer woman, I find it is such a productive and dynamic way to express creativity and challenge gender/beauty norms,” Cooper-Smith said.

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