“Climate change is a liberal arts issue”: A Family Takes Action to Prepare Amherst Students for the Future

It’s a family affair: The Sustainability and Climate Change Initiatives Fund involves three generations of Amherst alumni named Moon and Shogren coming together around a deep concern for the environment and a shared belief in the College’s potential to be a leader in the field. It is a model of philanthropy informed by not only focus and strategy but also connection, unity and joy. It rests on the bonds between grandfather and grandson, husband and wife, parents and children. It’s a group effort, a team sport, and—believe it or not—you are welcome to be part of it. 

A family of alums. Beth, Mike and Bobby Shogren, along with Beth’s father Fred Moon.
The Fund—established in 2021 by Beth and Mike Shogren ’89 in partnership with their son Bobby Shogren ’19 and Beth’s father Fred Moon ’64—began as a conversation. “It started with me and my grandpa,” says Bobby, an associate focusing on climate tech at Scrum Ventures. “He’s always been passionate about the environment though they didn’t have environmental studies when he was at Amherst.” Fred, former vice president and treasurer at Pomona College and director at the Surdna Foundation, concurs: “We’d been discussing the environment and what to do. Bobby would talk about being an environmental studies major and the challenges of finding climate-specific job opportunities to pursue after Amherst. That was the start of it.”

An idea began to take shape when the family was together for Fred’s 55th reunion, Beth and Mike’s 30th reunion, and Bobby’s graduation, all in 2019. “My father was very interested in meeting Bobby’s professors, so we went to a reception at the environmental studies department,” says Beth, affordable housing developer and current board member of the Surdna Foundation. “Dad was talking to the professors about what is needed and how alumni can support the department’s climate action activities with their networks and their dollars.”

In the months that followed, the family kept talking. “We started to think more tangibly, and we reached out to the College,” says Bobby, whose aim was to create something that would make it easier for Amherst students and recent graduates to translate their concern for the environment into meaningful and effective careers. “We thought, ‘We can help Amherst to be a beacon,’ a first-class, national educational institution doing this kind of work,” adds Fred. As a plan unfolded, Nat Shogren ’21 and Billy Shogren ’25, Bobby’s younger brothers, raised their hands to join the effort.

The idea had caught fire within the family—and so did its urgency. Mike, CEO of Prevent Biometrics, recalls his father-in-law’s clarity: “Fred said, ‘We don’t have 20 years to do this. We need to do this now. If we don’t, there’s no good alternative.’” 

So, in June of last year, they launched the Sustainability and Climate Change Initiatives Fund. The project’s goal is to take a broad, cross-functional look at how climate change and sustainability permeate all parts of academic and

A family of alums. Beth, Mike and Bobby Shogren, along with Beth’s father Fred Moon.
campus life as well as students’ lives beyond graduation, and to motivate, educate and empower the Amherst community to help address the complex problems we face. 

The Fund supports opportunities for Amherst students to study, research and explore climate change, climate study, sustainability and social impact in these areas, and is managed by the College’s new Director of Sustainability Wes Dripps ’92. “The Fund is a catalyst to help the College create campus-wide curricular and co-curricular sustainability programs,” says Wes. “Things like an annual sustainability ‘trek’ in which students visit with regional alumni working in the sustainability field to explore possible career paths, a yearly speaker and film series and internships that equip students with the experience and skills they need for sustainability careers and lives of purpose." 

For Mike, Amherst is the right place for this work. “Climate change is a liberal arts issue,” he says. “I was a first-gen scholarship kid from Minnesota. Amherst gave me this big lens through which to see the world and also an understanding of all the smaller pieces that have to move together to solve a problem.” 

Beth has a deep confidence in the College’s community of students, faculty and staff to meet climate challenges. “My experience at Amherst was life-changing,” she says. “The brilliance and dynamism of the student body blew my mind. That’s what brings me back—the people. Their curiosity. Their intellectual integrity. That’s why I believe in Amherst so much.”

Billy, Beth and Mike’s youngest son, finished his first year at Amherst in May and is planning to major in environmental studies. He is aware of how much things have changed since Bobby’s time in the program: “I feel good about the work that has been done, and I also know that there is so much more to do.” Nat, who graduated last year and is pursuing a career in clinical psychology, sees what has to be done as a shared responsibility: “I hold the firm belief that issues of sustainability will have to be a part of each of our lives if we want to minimize the negative impact of climate change. I believe that everyone has a role to play in the protection and preservation of our planet.” 

The question the family is exploring now is how to connect with and include others at Amherst who feel as passionately about creating a sustainable future as they do. They know that their gift to establish the Sustainability and Climate Change Initiatives Fund is the starting point, not the end goal.

The coincidental alignment of Fred’s, Beth’s and Mike’s reunion years with Bobby’s commencement was key to inspiring the idea for the Fund. Now they see their shared reunion cycle—the Classes of ’64, ’89 and ’19 will always come together every five years—as a way to stay involved as a family and to expand support for the project. “Having a broad group in the same reunion chain is powerful,” says Mike. “To reunite regularly in a conversation about something we’ve worked on together, to meet with Wes and track the College’s progress—that’s exciting.” As the initial projects get underway, and with Wes leading the effort, the family sees this as a way to reach out to their classmates to build support. Mike also plans to reach out to the classes with concurrent reunions—so, not just his, the Class of ’89, but also those classes five, ten, fifteen years before and after his—to engage with the work of the Fund.

If you fall into one of those reunion cycles—and even if you don’t—you are welcome to make a gift to the Sustainability and Climate Change Initiatives Fund and join a generous and inclusive effort to prepare Amherst students and graduates to be sustainability leaders in their lives and work. To learn more, you may contact Kate Sandak in the College's Office of Advancement at ksandak@amherst.edu.

“There are a lot of alumni out there who’ve thought about this issue and what role Amherst can play,” says Fred. “We want to encourage them to support the College in whatever way they can. Contributing to this fund is simply one way to do that.”