Switzer Foundation: Switzer Fellowship

Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation

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Grant amount: US $15,000

Anticipated deadline: Jan 6, 2021 8:59pm PST

Applicant type: Graduate Student

Funding uses: Fellowship

Location of project: Anywhere in the world

Location of residency: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire Show all

Location of citizenship: United States

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About this funder:



Become a Fellow

The Switzer Fellowship offers one-year fellowships to highly talented graduate students in New England and California whose studies and career goals are directed toward environmental improvement and who clearly demonstrate leadership in their field. The fellowship includes a $15,000 cash award for academic study, leadership training, access to a vibrant network of more than 650 Switzer Fellowship alums, and opportunities for professional development during the fellowship year and beyond.

Through the Switzer Fellowship, the foundation supports 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 Fellows Network of more than 650 fellows selected since 1986.

Switzer Fellows are on the leading edge of environmental and social change through efforts in environmental science, policy, conservation, environmental justice, public health, economics, journalism, urban planning, business, law and more. Switzer Fellows come from diverse social, academic and economic backgrounds. They are committed to interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral work, applied results, and collaborative leadership. Further, they are committed to their own professional development and to continually improving their leadership skills throughout their careers.

Fellowship Benefits and Expectations

The fellowship includes a one-year $15,000 cash award for graduate study, to be paid in two installments, in June 2020 and January 2021. It includes two multiday retreats which focus on building connections among fellows, and which provide fundamental leadership skills training. Applicants for the fellowship must be able to commit to attending the retreats during their fellowship year. In addition, the Switzer Fellowship offers a variety of professional and leadership development resources to fellows during their fellowship year and throughout their careers, as described below.

Switzer Fellows  Network

A significant and valuable aspect of the fellowship is membership in the Switzer Fellows Network. This network is a system of support and exchange for more than 650 Switzer Fellows located throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries. The network provides a vibrant connection among Switzer Fellows and other leading environmental practitioners. The goals of the fellowship network are to:

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

Ongoing network activities include issue-based meetings, conference calls, professional skills training, informal social gatherings, and collaborative grant opportunities. See Find An Expert to learn about fellowship alumni and their work.

Career support and mentoring

Foundation staff and fellowship alumni provide career coaching, mentoring, and leadership guidance to fellows at any time during their fellowship year and beyond. Foundation staff will help identify leadership development opportunities to best prepare fellows for their chosen career path.  

Other grant programs

Once they have fulfilled their fellowship year requirements, Switzer Fellows have access to three other Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation grant programs aimed at supporting and enhancing their leadership skills and professional development. The Leadership Grant program is available to fellows who have completed their studies and wish to partner with a nonprofit or public agency to contribute leadership and expertise on a project or help create a position that applies their professional skills and leadership to a critical environmental issue. Network Innovation Grants are available for collaborative projects involving two or more Switzer Fellows. This program is designed to foster innovation and collaboration among fellows, tapping the Switzer Fellows Network’s collective potential for advancing progress on an issue. Professional Development Grants are available to fellows after their fellowship year to attend trainings or conferences that will advance their professional skills and standing.

Criteria for Selection

The application process for Switzer Fellowships is highly competitive. Each year, through an extensive application and interview process, 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. We recognize that environmental leadership requires diverse perspectives, voices and skills for the future. 

The foundation selects master's- and Ph.D.-level candidates with a clear vision of how they will apply their graduate study to career goals. Only those candidates with a clear and realistic idea of how they can apply their skills and experience to practical environmental issues will be competitive. 

We are interested in seeing more applications from master's degree candidates. Ph.D. candidates pursuing academic careers must demonstrate their commitment to applied environmental problem-solving beyond the classroom or university setting, and must demonstrate knowledge of how academic research is applied to environmental policy or practice. 

Students of color, first-generation graduate students, and individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups in environmental graduate programs are especially encouraged to apply.  

Applications are specifically reviewed for the following:

  • Environmental Commitment, Clarity of Purpose, and Career Goals: Applicant demonstrates a commitment to aggressively pursue and implement effective solutions to improve the quality of our environment through professional and volunteer work experience; shows clarity of career goals and realistic vision. They articulate the role in which they see themselves having an impact.
  • Leadership Capacity: Applicant demonstrates experience and/or potential in the ability to influence and align others towards environmental goals, and to effectively bridge the public, private and academic arenas. Applicant demonstrates proficiency and leadership in their selected topic and commitment to ongoing professional development to enhance their leadership.
  • Innovative Problem-Solving: Applicant demonstrates innovative or creative approaches and contributes a new or different perspective to their field; applicant works on a cutting edge issue.
  • Applied and Interdisciplinary Focus: Applicant is able to translate knowledge within their field of study into problem-solving strategies; scientific, technical, analytical and/or policy study is geared towards applied results. Applicant is able to place their work in a broader context, beyond academic settings and including policy.
  • Collaboration and Engagement: Applicant has experience in organizing diverse groups, building inclusive teams or implementing programs on an environmental issue; shows willingness or ability to engage across sectors or social/community boundaries.
  • Social Equity Awareness/Experience: Applicant demonstrates an awareness of the equity and social justice dimensions of their environmental work.
  • Communication and Critical Thinking: Applicant communicates clearly and is able to translate theoretical concepts into practice; has the ability to communicate effectively in writing and orally.

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • Applicants for a Switzer Fellowship must:
    • be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient (international students are ineligible);
    • be enrolled in an accredited graduate institution ONLY in California or one of the six New England states (ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, RI) and plan to be enrolled as a full-time student for the entire 2020-2021 academic year;
    • have very strong academic qualifications, with academic and career goals focused on environmental improvement. In addition:

    • Master’s degree candidates (including JD students) must have completed at least one semester or quarter of course work to apply, and be seeking the Master’s as their terminal degree.
    • Individuals enrolled in one-year Master’s degree programs may apply prior to enrollment, but must be formally accepted into their program to be eligible for a Fellowship interview (held in May).
    • Master’s degree students planning to pursue a Ph.D. are advised to wait until they are in their Ph.D. program to apply.
    • Applicants at the Ph.D. level must plan to have completed at least three years of doctoral work or plan to have passed their qualifying exams by July 1, 2020. Ph.D. candidates with a clear research and career focus are more competitive than individuals who are still undecided or early in their academic program.
    • Midcareer students may apply and must demonstrate how their academic program will enhance their effectiveness as an environmental leader.