Michelaina Johnson

2017 to 2018
World Wildlife Fund
Placement Location:
Washington D.C.
Service Interest:
Water policy, river conservation, environmental justice, and journalism
Ojai, California

Berkeley experience:

Michelaina found her love of water at UC Berkeley. In the summer 2014, Michelaina did an internship at the Museum of Ventura County that ignited her interest in water policy. Since then, she has conducted extensive research on water inequity in Mexico and river restoration in California and written multiple papers on the topics, two of which which won the Charles Conrad Liebau Library Prize for Undergraduate Research. Desiring to make a positive difference in the field, Michelaina interned with the Delta Protection Commission in the Spring of 2016 where she learned about the role of policy and community engagement in the management of California’s most contentious landscape, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. From that experience, she realized the political and economic hurdles that hindered environmental restoration and sought to find a restoration strategy that could meet the human and environmental demands of a landscape. She used her senior history thesis, entitled “Evading Dam-Nation: Land Use History of the Lower Cosumnes River Watershed, ca CA. 1820-2016,” to learn about how the Cosumnes River watershed became the floodplain restoration model for the rest of California.. Her senior thesis earned High Honors in the History department and instilled in her a passion for river activism. To impart her passion for water to the Berkeley community, Michelaina served as secretary and then co-director Berkeley Water Group IdeaLab in her junior and senior years and also co-founded a student-run class on water activism and water as a human right.

Fellowship goal:

For her fellowship, Michelaina hopes to apply her interdisciplinary background in water issues to furthering current and proposed water policies and river conservation projects. She aspires to work for and learn from an environmental organization that advocates for clean water, river conservation, and communities that are negatively impacted by pollution.

Other service goals:

Since her freshman year of high school, Michelaina has worked as a journalist and freelance reporter. Her most recent pieces have focused on California’s environmental issues and appeared in Water Deeply, Bay Nature Magazine, and the Stanislaus County Magazine. Concerned about the public’s apathy regarding climate change and scientific misinformation, particularly during the 2016 election season, Michelaina founded the Science Talk at Cal conference in her senior year. The conference featured nine speakers from the fields of food systems, water, and climate change who spoke on the challenges of and effective strategies for communicating science to the public.

Postfellowship Plans:

After a couple of years working in the field of water activism and policy, Michelaina intends to receive her PhD in sustainable, community-based river management. Michelaina aspires to become a college professor and river activist who instills in students a passion for river activism, environmental justice, and sustainable floodplain management in the face of climate change. She plans to start a yearlong class that would partner students with water policy and environmental justice organizations to foster direct engagement with the communities and issues studied in the classroom. In addition to teaching, she wants to commit her research and time to working with water organizations and write in-depth articles on environmental issues.


Pantanal Mato Grosso Brasil
Michelaina Johnson, John Gardner Fellows
In the backyard of my hometown of Ojai brews a two decade battle to remove an obsolete dam. I never thought that I would give a damn until nearly four years ago when the small lake I drove by every time I visited Matilija Canyon looked different. Standing on the road overlooking the water, I...