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  • Laurel Pikcunas

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Laurel Renee Pikcunas. My great-grandparents migrated to Chicago, Illinois, from Lithuania and Poland when many families were fleeing Europe prior to the start of World War I. The spelling of my last name is an English derivative from the Russian-Cyrillic alphabet, and the uncommon spelling of K before C is a product of my great-grandfather’s phonetic translation from Russian-Cyrillic to English. 

I have known and been provided for by the lands of Kalamazoo, Michigan (10 years); Las Vegas, Nevada (7 years); and Honolulu, Hawai‘i (14 years and counting). Throughout my 14 years living in Honolulu, where I completed both my master’s and bachelor’s degrees at UH Mānoa, I fell deeply in love with Hawai‘i and the knowledge that resides in its people and the land. I am driven by much of what I have learned from Hawaiian studies to see Hawai‘i’s traditional indigenous resource management and relationship healing practices incorporated into solutions for mitigating the climate crisis.  

Why is joining the JCI VISTA Fellows program important for you and your future?

I joined the JCI VISTA Fellows program because I saw it as an opportunity to align my career with the work of sustainability professionals in Hawai‘i. Climate change is the toughest problem facing our time. Knowing we are capable of solutions is the passion that fueled my studies in academia and is now the foundation upon which I have sought to build my career. What excites me most about the opportunity provided through VISTA is the structure built in to the program for VISTAs to increase capacity within a community, make connections, and have a lasting impact within a sector important to them. I can see that VISTA is a gateway to gaining professional experience and shaping career trajectories. In my case, I can see how VISTA will help me transform the experience I currently have into a career more directly aligned with my passion for service, environmental sustainability, and climate action. 

What kind of work do you hope to do after the program wraps up?

Assuming that radical change agents around the globe will continue to transform societies’ fundamental systems so that our planet can heal, I hope the landscape of work opportunities available to me a year from now is radically different from what is available to me today. In my previous work, I’ve greatly enjoyed strategic planning and big-picture projects involving collaboration, creative thinking, problem solving and communicating across silos. I would love to be having daily conversations about climate action and for the work I produce to be reflective of that mindfulness. Climate change is the biggest crisis of our time, and I feel we have a responsibility to weave the narrative into everything we do. I hope the job market in 2022 will provide opportunities for me to advance my career in this direction.

If you could change anything about our world, what would you change and why?

If you are going to effectively catalyze transformative change in response to the climate crisis, you have to create connections in your community and build a strong social network in connection to the place you live. Let’s start that work today.