In July 2023, Grand Junction faced temperatures as high as 107 º, the highest-ever temperature recorded in Colorado. In the face of this heat, it’s no wonder that students across the globe are turning their attention to preserving the Earth and implementing sustainable practices. One of these students is CU Denver’s Shiela DeForest, who has steadfastly committed to ensuring a more sustainable future.
Deforest wasn’t always a climate activist. She grew up in a small town in the Philippines, and as a child, she dreamed of becoming a doctor. “Life has a funny way of changing you and what you want to be,” said DeForest. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Travel Services Management at the University of the Philippines. While at school, DeForest began modeling part-time. As a model, she had the opportunity to work with countless publishers and designers. After graduation, she began working for the British Embassy in Manila as a press officer and then as a flight attendant for Emirates Airlines.
In 2012, she got engaged and moved to Colorado, where she became more interested in sustainability causes. “To be honest, I wasn’t recycling at the time because where I was didn’t have options for recycling…but when I moved [to Colorado], by default, we had recycling.” After learning to separate her trash from recyclables, DeForest became interested in why it’s necessary to recycle, leading her to become more conscious of her consumption. Now, she and her husband compost and have a downsized garbage can to reflect their commitment to generating less waste. “Being in Colorado, for me, is an opportunity, and it gave me a start in a new country.”
“Being in Colorado, for me, is an opportunity, and it gave me a start in a new country.”– Shiela DeForest
After taking these small steps, DeForest found more ways to get involved in sustainability. Through pageantry, she was able to become more involved and vocal. In 2019, she was selected to represent the Philippines in the 2019 Mrs. Eco International pageant, and her passion and environmental advocacy won her the title of Mrs. Eco International 2019. In 2020, she walked in New York Fashion Week, where she championed designs by Filipino indigenous and sustainable brands. DeForest also became a climate reality leader and began working with Eco-Cycle in Boulder. In 2021, she joined the International Climate Action Challenge, which helps launch community-guided sustainability projects.
She is also a founding member of the Golden Resident Eco-Action Team, and her dedication to the organization won her an Individual Sustainability Award from the City of Golden. In 2021, she won the JEFFCO Resident Award in Sustainability. DeForest also serves on the BLOOM Sustainability Advisory Board, where she shapes how sustainable initiatives are implemented in the hospitality industry. Her work earned her the Spirit of Lowe award, which honors those who act with integrity, empower diversity, contribute to their community, and have superior performance. DeForest was also recently nominated for a CHLA Stars of the Industry Award.
In 2023, DeForest began pursuing her Master of Business Administration with an emphasis on Managing for Sustainability. She was running into career roadblocks as a foreign-educated student, as many jobs required credentials from an American institution. DeForest had previously attended events hosted by the Filipino community at CU Denver, and this sparked her curiosity about what courses she could take and degrees she could pursue. Ultimately, she decided the sustainability program at the CU Denver Business School was the right fit for her.
For students looking to get involved with sustainability, DeForest recommends looking for volunteer opportunities with the Auraria Sustainable Campus Program, looking to one’s community to find sustainability gaps and working to fill them. Her passion for the environment is truly inspiring, and she exemplifies the power of passion, hard work, and dedication.