After graduating from Humboldt State in 2007, Noelle Melchizedek found her dream job. As a planning specialist with the Natural Resources Services division of the Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA), she works daily on her two passions: social and environmental justice.
"I work for a non-profit and with people who are dedicated and passionate about their work," she says. "We take on social and environmental justice issues affecting Humboldt County and work to make positive changes in our communities."
Currently, Melchizedek is working on four projects for RCAA: the Humboldt Partnership for Active Living, developing signage for the Hammond Coastal Trail, examining transportation coordination and equity issues throughout Humboldt County, and planning water trails in Humboldt Bay. All of the projects aim to improve the lives of local people and the environment in which they live, learn and play.
While she is hard at work on social and environmental issues locally, Melchizedek spent her youth in a place with a culture vastly different from Humboldt County's—South Dakota. While in high school, a job shadowing field trip to Nebraska's Omaha Zoo got her interested in studying marine science. Upon graduation, she enrolled at the University of Hawaii. After two years on the island, Melchizedek began to understand global environmental justice issues and, at the urging of her roommate, started looking into studying environmental ethics at Humboldt State.
"I came to Humboldt to try it out for a year and I really liked it," she says. "I became involved on campus and served as a College of Natural Resources Sciences (CNRS) representative to the Associated Students, chaired the CNRS Lab Fee Committee, worked as outreach coordinator at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT) and served as co-director of CCAT for two semesters."
Melchizedek was named the 2007 Most Outstanding Student in her major, a fact that was kept secret from her until the announcement of the award.
"It came as quite a shock. I was very honored."
Melchizedek recalls her most pivotal experience at Humboldt State.
"CCAT was the most difficult and amazing time of my life. It blew my classroom experience out of the water," she says. "It was hands-on experiential learning— everything people say about CCAT is absolutely true. It's a community focused, demonstration home that examines the possibilities and ramifications of society's technological choices. I hadn't experienced working in an actual community that came together to make decisions by consensus. I was a manager of employees, ran a budget, lived and worked with two other people—it was really eye opening. That experience forced me to examine myself, my environmental ethic and in which career fields I wanted to work for change."
After earning her degree, she worked with the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project, serving as the Volunteer and Media Team Leader for the Fortuna area. The project focuses on restoration education and outreach concerning watershed issues, and Melchizedek designed Creek Geeks, a returning volunteer program that encourages ongoing participation from local volunteers. The program has been successful and aligns with her interests in promoting social and environmental justice. Connections she made with RCAA staff while working at AmeriCorps led to her current "dream job."
"Our environment is the most important thing we have. It supports everything we as human beings do," Melchizedek says. "For me, my experiences at Humboldt State made me realize that sustainability shouldn't be and doesn't need to be a microcosm of education. It doesn't have to be just for the environmental or green students—it spans academic disciplines and can be taught in any curriculum. It's for everyone."