Emerging Leader Award

The Emerging Leader Award at River Network, established in 2019 by former board member Leslie Lowe, recognizes a burgeoning leader working at the intersection of water and justice. This award provides early career recognition to expand their aspirations, gain confidence, and widen their network. 

Download the Emerging Leader guidance and award criteria.

Mariah Davis (she/her) standing in front of the podium on the River Rally stage holding her Emerging Leader award.

The Emerging Leader receives a $1,500 honorarium from River Network and a full scholarship to attend River Rally. The awardee works with a designated team at River Network to develop a scope of work that will inspire change and build capacity within their community. This work often includes but is not limited to blogs, online workshops (independent or co-facilitated), social media engagement, and workshops or presentations at River Rally. 

Nominating an Emerging Leader

The Emerging Leader Award recognizes a young professional, either under 35 or with less than 10 years’ professional experience in the water space, who brings people together and seeks to expand our collective understanding of the value and social context of water in their communities. We strive to recognize those who have not already been recognized on a national scale. Anyone completing the nomination form, for themselves or another, must be a River Network member – but don’t worry, it’s free and easy to sign up! Self-nominations are allowed, and nominating is free. 

Who We’re Looking For

The Emerging Leader is a passionate advocate that drives change in their communities. They lead with joy and hope in the larger movement that works toward abundant clean water for all people and nature to thrive.  

How are previous awardees driving change? 

Browse all previous awardees to get a feel for who we’re looking for. 

Award Criteria

The Emerging Leader is selected by network leaders and members based on the following criteria: 

To what extent does the nominee… 

  • Drive their work and projects, professional or otherwise, to address issues related to water equity and justice?
  • Bring people together and deepen connection in their community?
  • Use their talents to center impacted communities and voices?

And how would the nominee… 

  • Benefit from the Emerging Leader platform provided by River Network and use it to empower others and strengthen the water movement?

How To Nominate

Submit a nomination online for yourself or someone you know through the online form. The form will prompt you to answer long-form questions (no more than 300 words each) explaining how the nominee meets each award criteria. There will be an additional section where you can include supplementary links and resources like local news articles, op-eds, and other content. 

We recognize that pulling a nomination together is no small feat! In the nomination form, you will have the option to indicate whether you would like the nominee to be considered for the next award year. 

Selection Process

The Emerging Leader is selected by a predefined committee of network leaders and members, including previous Emerging Leader awardees, based on how they meet the award criteria. Nominees who do not meet the eligibility requirements (Who We’re Looking For) will not be considered for recognition. 

Questions about the Emerging Leader nomination process? Contact the River Network team at info@rivernetwork.org.

2022 Emerging Leader

Headshot of Mariah Davis, with trees in the background

Mariah Davis, Senior Policy & Campaigns Manager at Choose Clean Water Coalition (Annapolis, MD).

As Senior Policy & Campaigns Manager of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, Mariah manages outreach, grassroots advocacy, and civic engagement efforts to support the Coalition’s policy priorities. Mariah coordinates conservation organizations efforts in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. This includes working with conservation organizations at the local, state and regional level to enact sound state policies to ensure progress in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.

Mariah is an active member in the Chesapeake community. She is deeply committed to efforts that foster diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and played an active role in the formation of Virginia’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice established under Governor McAuliffe. She served as a founding board member of Annapolis Pride and chaired the city’s first Pride Parade and Festival.

Mariah is a graduate of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s Political Leadership Program. In 2020, she earned her master’s degree in Public Management from the University of Maryland. In 2013, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, with a minor in Chemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University.

2021 Emerging Leader

Charles Miller, Law Student & Junior Board Member at the Alabama Rivers Alliance (Birmingham, AL). Charles is a third-year law student at the University of Alabama School of Law and a board member at the Alabama Rivers Alliance. He has a strong interest in water law and democracy, with a focus on how this essential resource can be managed for the public good and with meaningful public input in the face of climate change. He has worked for One Roof, a non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness in Central Alabama, and at a local land trust. He has also interned at American Rivers in their Government Relations office and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Growing up on Green Mountain in northern Alabama, he gained an appreciation for the importance of wildlands and open space, especially in urban and suburban areas. Charles enjoys traveling, flatwater kayaking, and photography.

2020 Emerging Leader

Megan Nguyen, Bay Area Hub Coordinator at Sunrise Movement (San Francisco, CA). At her previous role at California Trout, Megan managed 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. 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.

Watch “Finding My Voice” and read Megan’s blog “Advancing Racial Justice”.

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.