Our youth-created, youth-driven organization is powered by high school and college students from across the United States. Our mentors at Green Schools Alliance, a network for students and adults interested in building healthy, sustainable school solutions, assist our organization with our fiscal and monetary policies.

Robert Walton

Geosciences and Economics
Commonwealth Honors College
at UMass Amherst
Class of 2019


Ryan Szvetecz

Finance Director
Finance and Environmental Economics and Management
University of Georgia
Class of 2019

Cindy Wang

Outreach Manager
Environmental Science
Macaulay Honors College at CCNY
Class of 2019
(855) ECO-TEEN ext. 460 »

Sam Good

Social Media Strategist
Environmental Systems Engineering and Economics
Stanford University
Class of 2020
Pleasant View, Utah »

Marissa Vessels

Program Director
UC Berkeley, Graduate
Political Science & Public Policy »

Sean Bradley

Film Director
Film and Media Studies
University of Georgia
Class of 2016

Deanna Upchurch

Vice President of Digital Content
UNC at Chapel Hill
Class of 2021
(855) ECO-TEEN ext. 450 »

Cary Lynne Thigpen

Outreach Manager
Political Science
University Of Georgia
Class of 2019 »

While a Boy Scout in his hometown of Concord Massachusetts, Robert Walton was engaged by the beauty of the natural world through camping trips and hikes with his troop. As he grew older, he discovered how to lead other in his views through leadership on his wrestling team and in his fraternity. Currently attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst for a degree in Geosciences and Economics, Robert is involved in research with the US Fish and Wildlife services and his school program, ICONS, on the effects of environmental change on different societal issues. Robert plans to use his experiences to make sure everyone has the opportunity to an equal voice about problems that concern them. Over the next few years, he plans to expand Greening Forward’s influence amongst the young Changemaker community, and the country as a whole.

After a baseball-filled childhood in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ryan Szvetecz is currently attending the University of Georgia to pursue degrees in Finance and Environmental Economics and Management.  He is the oldest of 3 siblings, and has two beautiful dogs back at home.  In his free time, he enjoys dominating the competition in intramural sports, exploring the many incredible restaurants Athens, GA has to offer, and relaxing with friends.  In high school, Ryan knew that he wanted to work in the business world, but after taking an environmental science class, he became fascinated by the environmental problems facing the world today.  He is excited by the role businesses can play in becoming a more sustainable society, and in the future, wants to help companies embrace a triple-bottom line approach.

Cindy Wang is a first-generation Chinese American college student who is currently attending Macaulay Honors College at CCNY. She explored the fine arts while attending LaGuardia High School, which allowed her to develop a natural admiration and appreciation for the environment. In her free time, she likes to participate in marches and rallies for social and environmental change. She recently attended the annual climate march in response to the Climate Summit and plans on continuing her social activism on campus by forming a Sustainability club. She aspires to continue exploring the common link between the arts and the environment and hopes to one day become a conservationist scientist.

Proudly hailing from the mountains of northern Utah, Samuel Good has gained a respect and love for the environment by living in it: whether that be mountain biking on his high school’s competitive race team, skiing at one of many local ski resorts, or just taking a walk with his parents and two younger sisters on the trails near his home. Samuel participates in a variety of extra curricular activities, one of those being music. As an accomplished pianist and violist, he has participated in an array of musical events, perhaps most notable the Sid and Mary Foulger International Music Festival and the Northern Utah Youth Symphony. In addition to music, Samuel conducts research on environmental issues that press our society today, and is currently experimenting with algae-based biofuels at a local university. Samuel hopes to pursue a career in environmental-based engineering to further advance our country’s use of renewable and alternative forms of energy.

Marissa Vessels is a graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Science and Public Policy and currently works as a full-stack marketer at MerusCase. Marissa comes from a background rich in the nonprofit sector and is excited to bring her unique experience to the table as a member of the Greening Forward team. In her free time, she enjoys camping, exploring all of the fabulous brunch spots in San Francisco, and her endless search for the perfect cup of coffee.

Sean Bradley is a filmmaker, photographer & recent graduate of the University of Georgia. He began his involvement with Greening Forward to tell the story of the annual IYEYS summit in New York City but has been passionate about environmental action ever since he was a kid. Growing up as an ally for the natural world, he continues to try to capture the importance of this via his media, and he is the founder of a nature-oriented video production company in Atlanta, Georgia.

Deanna Upchurch grew up surrounded by natural beauty in a small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She loves traveling, hiking, and spending time with her family. Deanna recently graduated from Watertown High School and plans to take a gap year to study Arabic while living in Rabat, Morocco. After returning from her gap year, she intends to pursue a degree in international affairs.

Cary Lynne Thigpen is currently a Political Science/Pre-Law major at the University of Georgia. She is passionate about environmental protection as a direct result of the numerous family trips to National Parks she has taken in the past 20 years. In addition to schoolwork, Cary Lynne’s days are filled with dogs, volunteering for various campaigns, spontaneous travel, and A Capella. Cary Lynne hopes to pursue a career in the lobbying field, and eventually wind up in politics.

Youth Council

Our youth council, composed of youth ages 13-20, advise and support our staff in fundraising, program management, and visibility for Greening Forward.

Kayla Zhu

Youth Council President
North Farmington High School
Farmington Hills, MI

Rose Straus

Drake High School
San Anselmo, California

Jayden Ruiz

Emmaus High School
Emmaus, Pennsylvania
Kayla Zhu lives in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, where she attends high school. She first opened her eyes to the impact of environmental issues as a legislative intern for a local state representative. After being inspired by the constituents that voiced how environmental issues affected their daily lives, Kayla began to advocate for environmentally conscience policies through political work for pro-environment public servants at the local, state, and national levels. Kayla was also the Michigan Youth Delegate to the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogues, and she interned at the United Nations this past summer. While at the UN, Kayla served as a representative from the UN Major Group for Children and Youth to the 2016 High-Level Political Forum on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Kayla hopes to study public policy in college and pursue a career in international affairs, while continuing to advocate for environmentally sustainable policies.  

Everyone has something that they are really attached to as a kid. For Rose Straus, this was seals. Some would call it obsession, others would call it passion, but Rose’s love for seals eventually morphed her into an environmentalist, and she made it her life’s mission to help save earth’s ecosystems. Rose and her three siblings and parents are all originally from Canada. Now living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rose is a hiker and backpacker, scuba diver, and lover of music and nature. Rose has always enjoyed fundraising for various environmental organizations, and helping with local gardening and restoration projects. Now in highschool, Rose participates in environmental clubs, mock trial, volunteers at the local audubon center, and sings opera and jazz. Rose dreams of becoming a marine biologist and environmental activist, specifically interested in helping to stop global warming.

Jayden Ruiz is a high school student living in Pennsylvania. He is a former Boy Scout who retains the love of hiking and the outdoors that his time in scouting gave him. In school he is an avid sculptor and participant in art contests. Outside of school along with environmentalism he is a student of piano and the martial arts as well as an avid gardener. In his spare time he enjoys writing and composing music or poetry. Jayden hopes to obtain a degree in biology and to use it to deal with pressing environmental issues such as global climate change and sustainability.