The Wake Forest University Environmental and Epistemic Justice Initiative (EJJI) is a multi-pronged Mellon Foundation funded research, teaching, and community engagement project that places at its center environmental and epistemic justice. The EJJI critically examines how and in what ways race and regimes of racial knowledge shape and inform our scholarly practices, public policies, and normative concerns. 

The Institute will highlight issues of race, racialization, and the environment at the local and regional level with possible applicability to other communities across the United States. 

2023 Institute 

The 2023 Summer Institute will take place from June 26-30, 2023 on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Institute will welcome early to mid-career journalists as the inaugural class of Wake Forest Mellon Environmental Justice Journalism Fellows. The Institute will also feature community activists and organizers working on environmental justice issues in North Carolina and Virginia.

2023 Institute Director

Melba Newsome is an independent journalist, editor and writer who has written and published hundreds of articles for national, regional and local publications including Scientific American, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Wired, AARP, Charlotte, Glamour, Playboy, Oprah, Reader’s Digest, Parade and The New York Times. She began her career writing dramatic narratives about everything from serial killer groupies to women in harems for women’s magazines, including Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, and Redbook. Her reporting is focused primarily on health, science, and the environment, with a focus on social justice and health disparities. A feature in O, The Oprah Magazine about genetic testing earned her the June Roth Award for Medical Journalism. She received a Reynolds Institute fellowship and an EWA Reporting fellowship. She has reported extensively on the physiological, emotional, and societal impact of the coronavirus. She was a 2021 MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative Journalism Fellow, publishing stories with Yale360 and other news outlets.

2023 Institute Faculty 

Vann R. Newkirk II

Vann R. Newkirk II is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and the host and co-creator of narrative podcasts Floodlines and Holy Week. For years, Newkirk has covered voting rights, democracy, and environmental justice, with a focus on how race and class shape the country’s and the world’s fundamental structures, in print and audio. Newkirk is a 2022 Andrew Carnegie fellow, and was a 2020 James Beard Award Finalist, a 2020 11th Hour Fellow at New America, and a 2018 recipient of the American Society of Magazine Editors’s ASME Next Award. In 2021, Newkirk received the Peabody Award for Floodlines.

Maya L. Kapoor

Maya L. Kapoor is a science writer and editor who covers climate change, biodiversity, and environmental justice. She writes “On the Move,” a column in High Country News that examines how the climate crisis is shifting life in the American West. Maya has taught science writing, creative nonfiction, and journalism at North Carolina State University, where she previously ran the journalism minor. Maya is a steering committee member of The Uproot Project and a former board member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. She has a master’s degree in biology and an MFA in creative writing. You can read her work at

Ashley Smart

Ashley Smart is associate director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a senior editor at Undark magazine. In addition to appearing in Undark, his writing has been published in outlets including Scientific American, Wired, and Science magazine. He was co-editor of Undark’s Long Division project on race science, which was recognized as a 2023 National Magazine Award finalist. Smart serves as an instructor in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing, where he teaches opinion writing. Before coming to the Knight Science Journalism Program, he spent eight years as an editor and reporter at Physics Today magazine, and in 2015-16 he was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. Smart serves on the advisory boards of the Open Notebook and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, and he is co-editor of “A Tactical Guide to Science Journalism: Lessons From the Frontlines,” published by Oxford University Press. He holds a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biological Engineering from Northwestern University, and originally hails from Gainesville, Florida.

2023 Institute Fellows

Will Atwater

Will Atwater has spent the past decade working with educators, artists, and community-based organizations as a short-form documentary and promotional video producer. Now, as a print reporter who writes about the intersection between human health and the environment, he seeks to incorporate visual storytelling skills into reporting issues such as the impact of open-air hog lagoons on low-resourced communities of color. A native North Carolinian, Will grew up in Chapel Hill and now splits time between North Carolina and New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and
two children.

Eileen Rodriguez

Eileen Rodriguez covers DEI, language-accessibility, and immigration and legislation in Forsyth County, North Carolina for WFDD and La Noticia, a collaboration of a public radio station and the state’s biggest Spanish language newsroom. As an audio production assistant for the Financial Times, she worked on podcasts about global business and culture. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez holds a bachelor’s degree from Baruch College in New York City, where she reported for Dollars & Sense, the online student publication. As a Walker Communications fellow for Audubon magazine, Rodriguez traveled across the U.S. to report stories that focused on environmental justice in marginalized communities.

Adam Mahoney

Adam Mahoney is the national climate and environment reporter at Capital B News. He previously worked as environmental justice reporter at Grist and reported on police and prisons for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Guardian. Mahoney received the Peter Lisagor Award for best reporting on race and diversity in Illinois in 2021 for his coverage water infrastructure issues and moving a metal recycling plant from a majority-white neighborhood to a majority-Latino neighborhood. He was a 2022 national finalist for best community-centered journalism from the Online News Association for his project about the impact of oil production on the community where he grew up. He currently resides in his hometown Los Angeles, California.


Jenae is a digital journalist with work experience at Apple News, Forbes, ABC News, and others. As a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School and member of the National Association of Black Journalists, she has reported enterprise stories ranging from business and tech, to environmental disparities on communities of color and Black maternal healthcare policy. She is passionate about her role as a journalist, and committed to providing reliable, accessible reporting that helps people. In her free time, she enjoys ice skating, playing piano, and spending time with her tuxedo cat, Sabrina.

Xander Peters

Xander Peters is a writer living between New Orleans and the pineywoods of his native East Texas. His writing and reporting revolves around our relationship with nature, industry, and environmental equity across the American South. He’s a former special correspondent at the Christian Science Monitor and a 2022 Kiplinger fellow in climate change reporting. His work has also appeared in National Geographic, Audubon Magazine, Scalawag Magazine, and others; he cut his teeth writing for outspoken altweeklies. His WFU Mellon fellowship will help support his writing and reporting on Gulf Coast oil and gas expansion.