I never thought that joining the project S.A.F.E BB gun team for the Walker county 4-H program would lead me to pursue a career as a wildlife biologist, passionate about environmental education. Growing up in the country, I wanted to join 4-H, so I could show cows like my neighbor down the road; and when that didn’t work out, being on the BB gun team with my school friends became my next best option. Through the next 7 years, I became heavily involved in developing leadership skills through serving on district boards, winning state contests, and attending national competitions/conferences. I learned how to harness the immense amount of energy I had from my extremely extroverted personality to establish my confidence in public speaking and interview skills. 4-H not only helped to develop my interpersonal skills, but it opened doors that lead me to find my passion for environmental education.
In the 6th grade, I decided to compete in my first public speaking competition, known as District Project Achievement (DPA). In this event, I was required to give a speech about a topic of my choice for 6 minutes in front of a panel of judges: I chose White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats. This topic choice came from the hobby of caving my family and I started when I was only about 9 years old. I ended up winning first place and was over the moon. I was so excited that I told everyone I knew, each time having them ask me what I spoke about, giving me the opportunity to tell them about the importance of bats and how WNS affects them. The responses I would get about bats were mixed but were skewed heavily toward, “Ew, bats are gross;” however, through my conversations with them, I would see their attitudes change towards bats. At only 12 years old, I started to realize that I enjoyed helping people see through their misconceptions about nature’s stereotypes. This was the start of my passion for environmental education.
From then on I wanted to embrace the fact that I was called the “bat girl”. This helped me to realize how much I truly loved wildlife and teaching others about it. I prayed one day I could have a job where I could teach others about how much I love the outdoors and nature, and that’s when God opened the door of being a wild cave tour guide for a company called G3 Adventures. I was a cave guide until they closed their doors in March of 2019, and I loved every minute of it. Not only was I able to get paid to do something I loved, but I was able to change lives and help people conquer fears of things that are scary and sometimes really hard to do. Through leading cave tours, I saw how fears and misconceptions can be transformed by education and experiences and decided that I wanted this to be apart of my future career one day.
I am now perusing my degree in Fisheries and Wildlife with an emphasis in wildlife science so that I can be apart of something bigger and to do my part in helping research issues that are affecting the wildlife that was a large part of my childhood. Even though I am interested in being a wildlife biologist, environmental education is still extremely important to me. Even today, I see how impactful environmental education is and how much we need it strongly implemented into the world. Humans have a detrimental impact on the environment, and those impacts are only going to continue to become more intense. Most of the time, people litter, kill venomous snakes and do not conserve energy, simply because they are not educated about the topics. Environmental education is the first line of defense in stopping people from doing things they think are okay so that a new course of positive actions can take place. My dream is to be able to take whatever research that I do, or help with, and turn it into information that can be shared on a public level to help change minds and actions.
The Saturday morning at Rock Eagle 4-H Center where I presented my speech about bats has changed my life forever, and I owe everything I have now to my involvement in Georgia 4-H. If you are unfamiliar with 4-H I strongly suggest reaching out to find out more. Whenever I have kids one day, I will strongly encourage them to participate in their local 4-H programs because I know how much it did for me. So, this is my official thank you to Georgia 4-H, for forming me into the person I am today and putting me on the path where I know I will make a difference in the world.