Perseverant, Humorous, & an Egalitarian: Anissa McKenna

Aug. 3, 2023
Anissa at San Carlos Apache College

Anissa on a tour of San Carlos Apache College in San Carlos, Arizona

People of the SW CASC is a series of profiles that highlight the important work and unique life experiences of staff members of the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center.  

Anissa McKenna (she/they) is the Assistant Tribal Climate Resilience Liaison with the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. Hired in August 2022, Anissa’s position is a link between the SW CASC and Tribal partners where she facilitates connections and builds relationships with Tribes and Indigenous communities. In addition to supporting SW CASC activities, Anissa’s position is funded by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) which provides her resources to help with climate resilience and adaptation efforts at the Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) in the Southwest region. 

Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Anissa is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. She attended the University of Arizona for their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees where they studied Environmental Science. For their Master’s thesis, In Vitro Bioaccessibility of Arsenic in Arsenopyrite, Anissa developed novel protocols for anaerobic in vitro analyses of mine tailings related minerals. “My background is chemistry focused,” she said, “but part of my motivation for even going to school in the first place was to study environmental science because I was hoping at some point to tie that back to Tribes or Indigenous people.”

Anissa is glad to be working in a Tribe-focused role, especially in her first post-grad position. “I’m interested in how the environment ties into public health and especially for intentionally underserved populations,” they said. “The environmental justice piece is important to me. For my Tribe, we don’t have a fully-fledged environmental department, unfortunately, so this is me trying to start getting into that type of work. This is the perfect place for me to start my career.”

As Anissa develops connections with SW CASC partners and learns more about the climate adaptation work happening in the Southwest, they are increasingly hopeful for the future. “Learning about all the different organizations that already exist and have been working on [climate adaptation] gives me hope,” she said. “Knowing there are people collaborating to get things done gives me hope. It’s cool that federal agencies are interested in bringing in diverse voices on climate adaptation because I really feel like that is the way to get useful work done.”

Anissa describes herself as perseverant, humorous, and an egalitarian. They have a strong sense of justice and a desire to do right by others in their career and through community work. Anissa is a member of the HONOR Collective, a group that offers healing for Indigenous communities in southern Arizona. “We do a lot of work around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives and boarding schools,” she said. “We do talking circles and art activities.” Anissa also loves to spend time with their dogs and most weekends she can be found enjoying goth music at the Royal Room in Tucson.  

Anissa’s thoughtfulness and expertise make them a great addition to the SW CASC team. The SW CASC is excited for how they will grow and flourish as the Assistant Tribal Climate Resilience Liaison.