Emerging Leader Award

2020 Emerging Leader Megan Nguyen

In 2019, River Network established the Emerging Leader award, inspired by former River Network board member Leslie Lowe, whose generous spirit and encouragement of emerging leaders provided a vision for how River Network’s efforts could extend into a wider array of communities. The award has two primary purposes. One is to provide early-career recognition and acknowledgement to an individual who shows promise, knowing that this can help them expand their aspirations, gain confidence, and widen their network. Additionally, this award provides a path to expand the community of people who work on water issues by recognizing and lifting up those individuals who are working at the juncture of water and justice.


Open to any individual[1] who meets the criteria below, including contributions at the intersection of water, equity, and justice, who seeks to transform our understanding of the social context of water, safeguard access to water or rivers, or other achievements. River Network employees and board members are not eligible to submit nominations or applications or be nominated by others.


  • Early in professional career (10 years or less).
  • 35 years old or younger.
  • Contributes to how equity and justice related to one or more of the four key issues identified in River Network’s 2018 strategic plan: Safe, clean, affordable drinking water; resilient cities and communities, robust and effective water laws and policies, and healthy rivers in agricultural landscapes.
  • Uses innovative strategies and techniques to achieve significant and inclusive results.
  • Inspires, energizes and supports others to make a difference.
  • Goes “above & beyond” what is expected in their job or community.
  • Has a vision for how they can use the “Emerging Leader” platform to increase the impact of their work.


The Emerging Leader Award recipient will be honored at a celebratory reception during River Network’s annual conference, River Rally. As part of this recognition, River Network will provide financial assistance to cover travel, lodging, and registration expenses to support the recipient’s attendance at River Rally 2020, with the hope that the awardee will participate in the entire conference. Additionally, River Network will provide a small honorarium, to encourage the recipient to share their perspectives, knowledge, and insights with our national audience through blogging, webinars, and presentation opportunities based on their interests and availability until the next River Rally.

Self-Nomination Application Process

To nominate yourself for the 2020 Emerging Leader Award, please apply when you register for River Rally. We will ask you to share links to any work you have available online and will ask essay questions that give you an opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications and outline examples of your work at the intersection of social justice and water. Applications are due February 28 and the winner will be notified by April 1.

About Leslie Lowe

Leslie Lowe served on River Network’s Board of Directors from 2009 until 2017. Her calm demeanor and bold encouragement pushed River Network to look deeper into specific geographies and issues where inequality persists, to shine a light on what we find, and bring attention to issues that others ignored. A champion of emerging leaders and always generous, Leslie’s contributions and spirit of determination left a lasting mark. Her professional contributions focused on corporate and governmental accountability and environmental law and policy. She worked as a Program Officer for Institutional Accountability & Individual Liberty at the Rockefeller Foundation, was the founder and Managing Director of UCI Environmental Accountability, directed the Energy & Environment Program at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), and also served as Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Leslie received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Bennington College, a Master’s of Science from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and did post-graduate research in economic and social history at the University of Paris. She also served on the board of the Highlander Research and Education Center and is a past Chair of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation’s Board of Directors. Leslie was a second generation New Yorker who had adopted New Orleans as her home.

[1] While River Network understands and appreciates the inspirational work done by couples, trios, teams, committees, entire organizations and groups of organizations, this award is specifically designed to honor individuals. Please limit your nomination to one person.

2020 Emerging Leader

Megan Nguyen, Communications Associate at California Trout (San Francisco, CA). Megan is a science communicator who manages both educational content for social media and programming for outreach events. She believes that uplifting diverse voices in conservation will inspire the next generation of science communicators. Outside of work, Megan is an energetic advocate using her voice to inspire people to turn their passion into action. Her energy and creativity as a musician and organizer shines bright in her activism work with the Sunrise Movement, a national movement of young people fighting for policies that address climate change. She has led strikes, sit-ins, and trainings for Sunrise, and through this work, Megan hopes to empower young leaders to challenge injustice in their communities. Meet Megan.

2019 Emerging Leader

Kevin Jeffery, Graduate Student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (Austin, TX). A student of landscape architecture, Jeffery is the creator of the Blue Index project and a burgeoning force in the water world. Blue Index, a participatory research project, strives to measure emotional responses to water in the community and will be used to inform Planet Texas 2050 Bridging Barriers Initiative. Before returning to school, Jeffery worked in water management in Washington D.C. for public, private and commercial entities. He plans to return to the public sector upon graduation. Meet Kevin.