In July of 2016, I traveled out of the country for the first time in my life. I was nervous to leave and see things that were new to me. At the time I had only dreamed about opportunities to see other places and visit with people that lived differently. Traveling internationally wasn’t something my family did, but I was determined to go and see the world.
I spent a week in Quito, Ecuador engaging myself in their culture’s customs and traditions. Going to their parks and restaurants and learning from another culture that was different form mine. This one-week trip was invaluable because I gained a desire to want to learn new cultures and it prepared me for one of the most influential trips of my life.
This spring in 2018, I went on a study abroad with Warnell and the University of Georgia to Africa. The trip was for international conservation in South Africa and Botswana. As much wildlife conservation issues that we learned, one of the most invaluable parts of the trip were the people. I saw a culture completely different from mine in a place like none I had ever visited before. The culture of the people that I met will never be forgotten and will forever have influence in my life.
To see how some of these people lived, really changed how I view the world. These two trips taught me invaluable lessons about people and other cultures. If I did not travel and go on these trips, I would not be the person I am today with a much better understanding for all people. So, to anyone who is nervous or scared to travel I say “Go”, it doesn’t matter where, but you will learn more about people across the world unlike anything you could do from home.
People naturally seem to be drawn to the outdoors. Now, I do realize not everyone wants to hike the Appalachian Trail or summit Half Dome, but the majority of people enjoy seeing a pretty bird on their walk to class or sitting on a park bench for fresh air. This small foundation, that is in everyone, is something that is rarely built upon. No matter who you are, where you are from, who you vote for, how much money you have, blue collar or white collar, everyone finds some happiness in the outside in my opinion.
In today’s environment, not everyone has the ability to make it into the woods however. That’s why, in my opinion, it is important to bring the woods to them. It’s an odd thing to think about the there are thousands of thousands of people who never have the opportunity to get to explore or hike or fish or see a deer for the first time. This is where environmental education comes into play.
I have been pretty blessed with the opportunity to teach environmental education in a bunch of different places and each time, new students bring new life to the class. If you have never had the chance to teach younger kids about nature, take my word for it, the look of pure excitement can’t be rivaled. You can see things start to “click” in their heads and they all want to tell you all about it. I worked this past semester with Experience UGA, a great group of people who bring local schools to campus to teach them about all UGA has to offer, by teaching 1st graders about Warnell. They got to learn about Corny the corn snake and one of our box turtles, which we would use to teach about animal safety. Man, did they have a great time.
I encourage you, Warnellians, to take what you have learned and teach. The smallest “cool science fact” or just taking time to teach a younger person how to ID a tree could make the biggest difference. From then on, that tree will always stick out during a walk in the woods an maybe they will eventually teach their friends about it too. Throughout the end of this semester, I challenge you to teach someone about the world we live in and watch their face light up with the same look yours did, when you first became excited for nature…
This May I found myself with a little extra time on my hands before my summer internship in Colorado started. Finals ended and I got in the car and headed west. After weeks of using it as a tool to procrastinate, the details of our five-day road trip through Utah were planned down to a tee, color coded excel sheet and all. After a quick pit stop in Colorado, we set out for our first stop, Lake Powell. A sketchy 20 mile 4X4 road led us to the most picturesque camping spot I’ve ever had. It was the quietest, darkest place I’ve ever been. We set up camp and watched the sun go down and the stars come out.
The next morning, we made the short trek to Zion National Park. When Isaac Behunin first settled in what is now the park he said, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church. This is Zion.” As we drove through the small town of Springdale and approached the park, I knew exactly what he meant. Zion is an ecological enigma. The flourishing tropical forest amidst the arid dessert looks like something out of a movie (and judging from the crowds in the park it would be easy to believe that it was). We hit the highpoints of the park first, the ones filled with tourists and lines, and then moved on to the more challenging and “hidden” trails. I remember being so overwhelmed by the park. Everywhere you looked was beautiful. I remember looking at all the people at the park, and as much I wished I didn’t have to wait in lines or wait for traffic to die down on the trails, I was so happy that so many people wanted to come and explore park, too!
Next on the itinerary was Bryce Canyon National Park. The two-hour drive gave me time to read about the park in one of the three National Geographic National Park guide books I was given before the trip (at least my friends know me, right?). I was so excited to hike through the allegedly cursed hoo-doos and they did not disappoint! The geology in Bryce Canyon is mind boggling and the thought of how these structures formed was enough to take my mind off the intense dessert heat during the hikes. If the geography wasn’t enough to make me love Bryce Canyon, there’s an entire trail that leads visitors through a patch of Bristlecone Pines, the oldest living trees on the planet! After hearing Dr. Coder talk about these guys for a whole semester, this was a pretty big deal.
The next day we headed for Moab, Utah to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Moab is an oasis for someone in recreation and tourism. The cute little town is nestled between the parks and serves as a great hub for all things recreation in the area. Canyonlands, as the name might suggest, is home to beautiful canyons and even more captivating geology. I was surprised at the fact that I spent five days surrounded by red rocks and not once did I get tired of the views! On our last day, we got to see Arches most famous attraction and it earned a second place spot on my list of favorite arches. Our time in Moab was no where near long enough and before we knew it, we were headed back toward Colorado to start the rest of the summer. The next time I find myself with a few extra days, I already know where I’ll be spending them.
Like any semi-responsible member of society, I like to keep up with current events through different news platforms. Recently, however, it’s become harder for me to want to stay informed because it is as if I see more negative news than positive. I often find myself, like many others, feeling helpless in today’s political climate. There is so much going on that is simply out of my control. There’s been rollbacks on the Endangered Species Act, the EPA is shrinking, and worst of all, we now have 12 years to limit climate change. Sure, we can all make small changes that will help, like recycling and limiting our use of single-use plastics, but it never feels like enough. Nevertheless, throughout my time in Warnell, and especially through the many different people I have met, I haven’t lost hope. That’s because everyone here has one thing in common: we all want to make a difference in the world. Every time you ask someone in Warnell why they joined their perspective program, they can usually point out a problem in today’s society that they are passionate about, whether it be saving a certain species from the brink of extinction, getting more kids outdoors and excited about the environment, or conserving clean water for future generations, and everything in between. In reality, we may not all get to make the next great discovery that will save the world and stop global warming, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to dream big. Be that as it may, I still believe that everyone here is so driven and cares so much for the issues that affect the field of natural resources, that through our combined efforts, we will leave a lasting impact that will change the world for the better.
The night before I left for my trip to Africa this summer, I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep. I was absolutely terrified that I had no idea what I was getting myself into- what if I got half way across the world and was so homesick that I couldn’t function? What if something happened and I was too far away from my family to get help? All of the thoughts that were racing through my head felt debilitating, but I knew that no matter how afraid I was, I still had to wake up and get on a plane.
When my parents dropped me off at the airport, I met up with a friend that was also going on the trip and we walked through security together. I could tell that she was also nervous, and we both cried when our families left. What we didn’t realize in that moment was that the next 30 days were going to be some of the greatest of our lives- my experience in Africa ended up being the most eye-opening, life-changing thing that I have ever experienced. I stood 50 feet from some of the largest, most beautiful big game species in the world. I witnessed the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen and I hiked up mountains at sunrise. I played with children in a rural village in Botswana and I loved and laughed with some of the greatest friends that I will ever have.
The bottom line is this: the fear that I had about being so far from home ended up being nothing compared the experience that was ahead of me.
The lesson that I learned is one that I feel is important for everybody to learn while they are young. There are many clichés about the benefits of doing things that scare you, but you don’t really understand until you are in the situation. Looking back, some of the greatest choices that I have ever made have required me to overcome a fear. I would have missed out on a lot of joy and a lot of learning experiences if I had always let my reservations make choices for me.
College and the years that shortly follow are filled with hard decisions and fear of the unknown that can be crippling. From the very beginning of our college experience when we choose a school and move from places that we have always considered home, we begin a long journey of uncertainty that leads us through many difficult situations that often don’t have “right” answers. It is easy to let feelings of fear hold you back, but the truth is that some of the greatest experiences are the aftermath of uncertainty.
If I could give young adults one piece of advice to carry with them throughout their lives: do things that scare you and do them with confidence. Take that class that sounds like it will be hard. Go on that trip that makes you nervous to be away from home. Form relationships that intimidate you. Make hard decisions to let people go. Apply to schools that are out of your comfort zone. Apply for jobs that you’re not sure you can get. In the end, you will grow infinitely from stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Some of the best advice I have ever received is as follows: Take every possible opportunity to travel, network, volunteer, learn, etc. that you can as an undergrad. It will expand your horizons indefinitely, make you a more effective natural resource conservationist, and ultimately make you a better person. Every new door, when approached with a willingness to work hard and learn, will subsequently open another. You will end up learning more about yourself than anyone else could ever tell you, and you may discover that your true passions differ from what you initially thought.
When I first entered Warnell, I envisioned myself graduating as soon as possible and pursuing a field biologist job with Georgia DNR. I thought I would stay in Georgia for the rest of my life as I progressed through a career in forestry and wildlife; at the very least I thought I would stay in the southeast. I was perfectly happy here, and really did not understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else.
In stark contrast to my original plans, I spent the summer working for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, am planning to attend graduate school at Colorado State University and am ultimately working towards a wildlife research career in the Western US. However, I would likely have very different plans if I had not gotten involved in the ways I did. For example, being involved in the Wildlife Society led me to experience New Mexico, Louisiana, and Ohio for the first time. My boss in Colorado was heavily involved with TWS while he was in school, and that was one thing we discussed when I was interviewed. Working at the Deer Barn paved my path to Colorado, as it was through the deer barn that I first experienced Colorado. Optional Study Abroad and Maymester classes created some of the best friendships I have.
No one looks back on their formative college years and thinks “I wish I had been less involved, networked with fewer people, learned fewer things, and visited fewer places.” I’m not promising that you will experience an extreme change of your life plans like I did. But I do guarantee that the best way to pursue your truest passions is to have as many options as possible, and those that are highly involved, willing to learn, and openminded have the greatest number of options.
Internships are one of the most important elements of your college career. They provide great opportunities to gain experience in your field of study, network with people, and get out and explore the many possibilities that you can do with your degree. Personally, my internship experience was the best thing to happen to me during my time at UGA. During the fall 2018 semester, I knew that I needed to find myself a summer internship because in just 12 months, I would be graduating and needed to have some experience under my belt. I was helping with an Ambassador Call Night one evening where we call all our donors and thank them for their generous support. I ended up calling an individual who works with the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division and we struck up a conversation. He asked me if I was considering internships and I, of course, said yes. He said why don’t you send me your resume and I’ll see if we have any openings. I sent him my resume and waited to hear back.
When he got back to me, I was delighted to hear that I would be working with public relations and the game management section of WRD. My duties would include creating content for the WRD social media sites as well as writing articles for the Georgia Wildlife Blog. I had never considered myself as a blogger, but I was excited to give it a try. Thus, began the experience that would start me down a journey that would lead to me rewriting my plan for the future. I’ve always really enjoyed research. Not necessarily the typical form of research where you perform experiments and test theories. Rather, I really enjoy conducting the kind of literature research where you’re given a topic, and you try to learn as much as you can about that topic, then you relay that information in a concise, interesting way. This is exactly what I did during my internship. I would be given a blog idea and it would be my job to run with it and create a piece that people would enjoy reading. I adored my job so much that it made me realize this is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am having so much fun getting to go talk to different people, try new things, and learn through my research efforts. This was the type of job where I could combine my love of research with my passion for wildlife. This was the perfect place for me.
If I had not obtained this internship, I never would have gained from this experience and realize that I love this type of thing so much. Few rarely recognize that wildlife agencies need social media and public relations coordinators. I know I didn’t consider it until this internship. That’s why internships are so important. They give you these kind of experiences that have the potential to completely reshape what you thought you wanted to do. If you have the opportunity, take it. Start looking for internships now! You won’t regret it!