As a child growing up near East Berlin, Germany, Director of Environmental Citizenship Tanja Srebotnjak particularly enjoyed math and science. After the wall crumbled, she had an opportunity to attend an outstanding boarding school south of Berlin.
“The boarding school specialized in STEM,” she noted. “I loved numbers, patterns, and logic, and I enjoyed finding solutions to real-world problems.”
Tanja later moved to the United States and obtained a Ph.D. in environmental statistics and policy from Yale University. She taught sustainable environmental design at Harvey Mudd College in Southern California before accepting the job at Nueva a year ago.
“The lenses and projects that Nueva uses to encourage curiosity and help students to engage in problem solving through design and systems thinking is pretty unique,” Tanja said. “Nueva students are so passionately engaged and smart. One group of students I got to know during the past year has been active in climate change marches. They are lobbying the municipal government to bring about change.”
In addition, Tanja helped to create the popular Fireside Chats, which invited notable guest speakers to speak on all sorts of interesting topics, including COVID-19. She hopes to continue the program this year and is excited about Nueva’s new environmental citizenship classes.
“Our students are learning how to be effective changemakers in our new class, Climate Change Science and Solutions,” Tanja noted. “I’m also excited about Ecological Humanities with Brian Cropper, which explores the relationships humans have with the environment through faith and philosophy. In addition, we are offering two sections of Patrick Berger’s Environmental Economics and another new class called Changing Global Health Dynamics.”
Last year, Tanja was asked by the United Nations Development Program to participate in a symposium that explores expanding the Human Development Index to include an environmental component.
“The index is based on a capabilities approach to measure the extent to which people can fulfill their potential,” Tanja explained. “It considers optimum health, higher education, in addition to per-capita GDP. There’s now a recognition that ecological well-being matters as well.”
During Covid-19, Tanja participated in video calls with members of the Environmental Education Funders Collaborative. Attendees shared helpful information about the impact of COVID-19 on environmental education organizations and available support to alleviate staff layoffs, furloughs, and program cuts.
That should keep Tanja busy for now! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Robert, and their daughters—Sophie, a Nueva freshman, and Katja, a Nueva seventh grader.
“It has been fantastic for me to teach at my daughters’ school,” Tanja said. “I get to be part of and shape some of their educational experiences.”
When she’s brainstorming about the environment, Tanja enjoys playing board games, cooking, and taking walks with her family.