Fellowship Program

Overview

The goal of the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program is to support highly talented graduate students in New England and California whose studies are directed toward improving environmental quality and who clearly demonstrate leadership potential in their field.  

Now in its 27th year, the Switzer Environmental Fellowship provides a combination of funding for graduate study, trainings to help develop leadership skills, and participation in the Switzer Fellowship Network. The Foundation’s primary interest is in developing environmental leaders for the 21st century who have the ability, determination and integrity to effect positive change. Only the most active, committed and focused individuals will compete successfully to join the Switzer Fellowship Network of over 530 Fellows selected since 1986.

Awards have been made to students pursuing a wide range of environmental fields including environmental policy, economics, conservation, public health, journalism, architecture, environmental justice, business and law as well as traditional environmental  sciences including biology, chemistry and engineering. In all cases, a commitment to interdisciplinary work, applied results and collaboration is paramount. 

The application process for the Switzer Environmental Fellowships is highly competitive. Each year, through an extensive application and interview process, at least twenty Fellowships are awarded, ten in California and ten in New England, out of an initial pool of over 300 applicants. Candidates compete separately for Fellowships in New England and California.  Fellowship applicants are evaluated based on their leadership capacities and commitment to environmental problem-solving. 

Applicants must demonstrate strong leadership aptitude, communication and critical thinking skills, relevant work and volunteer experience, and the necessary scientific or technical background for their field of study. Past leadership and professional or volunteer experience in community and nonprofit settings is valued as well as academic achievement, evidence of systems thinking, and interdisciplinary perspectives.  Successful candidates are innovative, work collaboratively across disciplines, possess self-awareness about their leadership style and abilities, work towards tangible results through their efforts, and have an appreciation for the importance of networks in effecting change.

The career and professional goals of potential Fellows are also carefully evaluated. Candidates with a clear vision of how they will apply their academic training to a career in the non-profit, government or private sector are preferred. Candidates pursuing academic careers must demonstrate their commitment to applied environmental problem solving beyond the classroom or university setting. Switzer Environmental Fellowships are merit-based; however, financial need of an applicant may be considered to distinguish between two equally qualified candidates.

The Fellowship provides a one-year $15,000 cash award for graduate study, as well as networking and leadership support to awardees (see Fellowship Benefits section, below).  All awardees are required to attend two weekend-long trainings during their Fellowship year (one in the fall, one in the spring).  In addition, all awardees are strongly encouraged to be active members of the Fellowship Network beyond their Fellowship year (e.g., writing blog posts, hosting an issue-based webinar, or mentoring a younger Fellow).  The Foundation seeks to select a diversity of students from different schools, programs, disciplines and career tracks in each Fellowship class. Diverse backgrounds and perspectives add value to the Fellowship Network by fostering learning and collaboration across disciplines and geography.

Fellowship interviews are held in early to mid-May and take place in San Francisco for the California Fellowships, and in Boston for the New England Fellowships. Specific procedures and guidelines for the Switzer Fellowship application process can be found at How to Apply in this section.

NOTE: A complete application with all requested materials must be received by the due date for consideration. Only online applications will be accepted.

Fellowship Benefits

The Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program offers more than academic funding for Fellows. A variety of resources are offered to provide career and professional support to the Fellows during their Fellowship year and thereafter.

Switzer Fellowship Network

A significant aspect of the Switzer Environmental Program is the Switzer Fellowship Network.  The Switzer Fellowship Network is a system of support, opportunity and exchange for over 530 Switzer Fellows throughout the U.S. and in numerous foreign countries.  The Network provides a vibrant connection between and among Switzer Fellows, and other leading environmental practitioners.  The goals of the Switzer Fellowship Network are to:

  1. Support and reinforce the careers and efforts of the community of Switzer Fellows and facilitate their support of each other.
  2. Assist Switzer Fellows in achieving positions of leadership and visibility in order to increase their effectiveness.
  3. Foster collaboration among Fellows working on similar issues or sectors, and to promote peer-to-peer learning and innovation.
  4. Develop a community of Switzer Fellows who share in training, leadership, and networking opportunities.
  5. Provide an interdisciplinary source of expertise from which organizations, government agencies, policy makers and media contacts can draw, when expertise on an environmental issue is needed.

Switzer Fellowship Network activities include informal gatherings, issue-based meetings, webinars, conferences and professional skills training.  The annual fall Fellows' retreats in California and New England, which are open to all Fellows, are the keystone networking events sponsored by the Foundation each year.  In addition to the two required retreats/trainings, other convenings and gatherings are scheduled throughout the year and the Foundation encourages Fellows to plan events and programs.

Since Switzer Fellows are located throughout the world, communications play a central role in fostering a vibrant Network of Fellows.  The Foundation employs a variety of techniques to keep Fellows connected virtually through Switzer Fellows’ listserves, a blog, and social networking.  The Foundation also publicly promotes the work and accomplishments of Fellows via our News webpage and social media outlets.  The searchable Fellows Directory helps Fellows to find colleagues with similar professional interests or who live in the same geographic area.  Lastly, the Calendar section of this website lists trainings and meetings of special interest to Fellows and colleagues.

Career Support Services

The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation offers career and leadership guidance to help Fellows apply their academic studies to the real world of environmental issues. We help identify leadership development opportunities to best prepare Fellows for their chosen career path. The Foundation can also assist in finding other Fellows, or perhaps a mentor or advisor to provide professional contacts, networking opportunities or other guidance. The purpose of a mentor or advisor is to support and encourage the Fellow in attaining his or her career goals. Fellows can select a mentor from past Switzer Fellows or other environmental professionals. This is an optional part of our Fellowship Program and is meant to provide access to professional contacts and career guidance from a perspective other than what Fellows might have available to them at school.

Other Switzer Foundation Grant Programs

The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation is committed to supporting and enhancing the leadership skills and professional development of all Fellows, even after the Fellowship year. The Leadership Grants Program is available to Fellows who have completed their studies and wish to partner with a non-profit or public agency to create a special project or position within that organization that applies their professional and leadership skills to a critical environmental issue. Professional Development Grants are available to Fellows after their Fellowship year for training or conferences that will advance their professional skills and standing. Funds are also available for collaborative projects among Fellows through Switzer Network Innovation Grants, which is a program designed to foster collaboration among Fellows, tapping the Switzer Fellowship Network's collective potential for innovation and action to advance progress on an issue.