When 23-year-old SJSU alumna Cindy Moreno was announced as the winner of the Bay Nature Institute's Local Hero Award for Youth Engagement, she was shocked.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” Moreno said. “I didn’t really think that I was as deserving (of the award) as some other people because I’m not originally from the Bay Area.”
The daughter of two Spanish speaking parents, Moreno grew up in a small Latino agricultural community in Bakersfield.
Mark Batchelor, director of education at Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale, said Latinos in environmental education are very rare and being bilingual helps Moreno relate to many of the students.
“She is a gem in that area,” Batchelor said. “There is an instant respect because a lot of the kids we work with are Mexican-American. The kids definitely connect with her.”
Batchelor said Moreno helps design the curriculum for the classes at the farm and manages 32 garden beds that the students cultivate.
According to David Loeb, executive director of Bay Nature Institute and publisher of Bay Nature Magazine, the award is one of three given to people who are doing wonderful things for the natural world in the Bay Area.
“We instituted the Youth Engagement Award because we wanted to honor someone who has done extraordinary work in the field of conservation and environmental education," Loeb said. “She has done amazing things in her 23 years.”
Moreno graduated from SJSU in 2012
and received a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration in restoration and resource management. She said she spent most of her time at SJSU as an undeclared major until she took an introduction to environmental studies class.
“I found that it was really intriguing and I fell in love with it,” Moreno said. “I felt that this was something that I could learn about and really make a difference in the world.”
Moreno said while at San Jose State, she worked on a program for the transportation solutions group of the environmental resource center.
The program, called back to school day, is a monthly event that rewards students with food for using alternative means of transportation, Moreno said.
She also said she worked as an intern for the National Wildlife Refuge System of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
After graduating, she said she struggled to find full-time work before she decided to take two part-time jobs.
“I work as a garden educator for Full Circle Farm ,” Moreno said. “I work with sixth graders from Peterson Middle School and it’s really fun.”
According to Moreno, the farm is an 11-acre piece of land behind Peterson Middle School that has been converted from an old soccer field to a community urban farm that includes a student garden.
“It allows them (the children) to really experience what it’s like to be a farmer,” Moreno said.
Moreno said she also works as an energy consultant for WattzOn, an energy startup in Mountain View that allows people to calculate the impact of their personal energy usage on the environment.
“It’s been really awesome helping residents learn how to save on their energy bills,” Moreno said. “I’ve been really fortunate to find job opportunities with companies that I share the same goals with.”
While balancing two part-time jobs, Moreno said she still finds time to volunteer as a teacher for the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy on weekends.
Batchelor said he thinks the award is great thing because Moreno deserves it.
“She is a pretty humble person, she wasn’t looking for that kind of prestige,” Batchelor said.
Moreno said her goal for the future is to build up experience and secure a stable full-time position.
“I have thought about pursuing a master's degree but as I take on different experiences, my goals are always evolving,” Moreno said.