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Celebrating Black Excellence: Tira Beckham is Tackling Climate Change

Tira Beckham is a second-year master’s degree student in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State‚Äôs College of Natural Resources. Her program of study is Natural Resources and her research focuses on the socio-political barriers to climate resilience in low-income, rural, inland communities.

Tira was recently named a Global Change Fellow. The Global Change Fellows program supports students across multiple disciplines who are making an impact around climate change. After she completes her master’s, Tira will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Natural Resources in the NC State College of Natural Resources.

We recently spoke with Beckham about her experience as a Black scientist in the field of natural resources. The following Q&A is a part of a Black History Month series highlighting the outstanding contributions Black faculty, staff and students have made to the College of Natural Resources.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is an important time to reflect back on all of the significant and game-changing contributions that Black people have made to our society. However, it is sometimes used as an excuse for corporate America to release performative advertisements and initiatives which are unhelpful and do not inspire any real efforts to encourage equality overall.

What inspired you to work in your field?

I became interested in environmental policy, especially in the context of environmental and climate justice, after working with low-income communities for both local and state governments. More recently, I was a project manager, collaborator, researcher and lead author for the implementation of NC Executive Order 80 and the development of the NC Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan.

Through my work with the state, I got to collaborate with lead climate scientists, top decision-makers and communities. Through this process, I realized that effective change can only be made by taking a bottom-up approach to equitable governance. I plan on continuing in this field on a federal and international level and making change that can be sustained for generations to come.

What excites you about your work?

I am interested in the urban-rural divide and the disproportionate impact of climate change on low-income and rural communities. My goal during my graduate career is to create solutions and frameworks in order to identify barriers to, and provide strategies for, equitable access to climate adaptation in rural and low-income communities. It is important that these communities, which are often on the frontlines of climate disasters, have the resources necessary to recover and prepare for the next storm.

Eventually, my goal is to work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to build equitable climate resilience and adaptation on a global scale. The UNEP is making significant steps toward climate mitigation and adaptation around the world, and I would like to join this effort by using policy and diplomacy to assist governments in developing countries in adapting to climate impacts, which are exacerbated by a lack of resources and capacity.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

As someone who started working with state government at a (relatively) young age, I struggled a lot with feeling worthy of my position and trusting in my own intuition. I had to learn how to be professional and how to do different things in my job that I had never done during my academic career. It was during this time that I learned the value of lifelong learning. I began reading and watching videos of lectures so that I could gain the skills needed to do my job as effectively as possible, while also increasing my confidence and self-assurance. 

Tell us about someone who supported and encouraged you to pursue your work.

My hero and my biggest supporter has always been my late grandfather. He worked with the Department of Defense for a number of years and always encouraged me to trust in myself and to dream big. He is the main reason I wanted to go into policy and strive to work in the federal government.

What words of wisdom do you have for the next generation of young (BIPOC) professionals entering your field?

When it comes to science and climate change policy, it is important to have a passion for people. So often, policy and decision-makers have a disconnect with the people who are directly affected by the decisions being made. It is easy to believe that governance should only happen behind closed doors at top levels, but it is important that the experiences of those being governed are considered and included in the decision-making process. This can only be done through direct communication and collaboration with those who are being affected.

What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

After six months of the pandemic, extensive “Facebook-ing” led to me finding that the indoor plant community in Raleigh and elsewhere is booming with activity and fellowship. I started to collect a few unique houseplants by buying and trading online and visiting a few local plant shops in Raleigh. Almost a year later, I now have over 20 houseplants and growing. I spend most of my free time playing with my plants and my pet bunny, Cookie. I am also an avid true crime fanatic. I listen to a variety of true crime podcasts, watch a number of documentaries, and read true crime books.

This post was originally published in College of Natural Resources News.