An internship for a greener future

New environmental communications endowment equips students to tell stories for the Earth.
Story by Frances Badgett
“The environmental movement really needs a skilled communications strategy and public relations sense."

Frank Greer and Stephanie Solien have been passionate about politics and activism their entire adult lives, working on campaigns and donating to good causes.

To that end, the couple is establishing the Salish Sea Institute Tahlequah Communication Internship program.

The endowment will fund a paid student internship with University Communications at Western expressly to provide communication and advocacy assistance to the Salish Sea Institute.

“The environmental movement really needs a skilled communications strategy and public relations sense, and I wanted to do good work. I wanted to use communications to make positive change in the world,” says Greer.

Frank Greer got his start in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war movement of the 1970s. He went on to found GMMB, a communications and public relations company that helps progressive campaigns refine their voice and back up their passion with savvy PR. Greer worked on campaigns for President Clinton, President Obama, South African President Nelson Mandela and others.

Stephanie Solien, a member of the Salish Sea Institute advisory board, has a similarly involved background, working as staff in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and as national political director for the Clinton presidential campaign in 1992. She was also a member of the Puget Sound Partnership board for eight years, and most recently served as co-chair of Gov. Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

“We left this next generation with a large climate and economic challenge, and Frank and I wanted to give students a foothold to launch into those areas of social and environmental change,” says Solien.

Those challenges are enmeshed in the name of the endowment itself: The Salish Sea Institute Tahlequah Communication Internship is named for Tahlequah, the orca who became a heart-breaking symbol for the plight of our endangered southern resident orca population after she carried her dead calf in the Salish Sea for 17 days in 2020. Neither Solien nor Greer is an alum of WWU, but the environmental education and transboundary work of the Canadian-American Studies Program, the Salish Sea Institute and the Institute for Energy Studies all speak to the work that sparks their interest. They’re also impressed with the quality of Western’s journalism graduates.

And Western is home.

“We’re residents of Orcas Island, and WWU is in our back yard. We have young people in our lives who have gone to Western, and they’ve been great, thoughtful and involved people,” says Solien.

The first journalism internship will begin in fall 2024.

Frank Greer and Stephanie Solien smile for the camera
The Salish Sea Institute Tahlequah Communication Internship, funded by Frank Greer and Stephanie Solien, prepares students to use their communications skills in environmental journalism and advocacy.