Empowering the next generation of leaders. Turning trash into functional treasure. Using biomimicry to restore wetland habitats. Kayaking the ocean in search of plastic. What may seem like an unrelated list of activities is actually the winning projects of the 2023 Alumni Leadership Awards! With a record number of project proposals, narrowing down to four winners wasn’t easy. Each person who applied deserves an award for their creative conservation solutions, and we wish we could fund them all. The ideas are as diverse as the applicants, with winners hailing from the Galapagos, Costa Rica, Idaho, and Canada! We are thrilled to share the details of each project and highlight the innovative work being done by these four outstanding EPI Alumni.
Students for Environmental Education Development (SEED)
Cameron, an undergraduate student at McGill University, founded the non-profit organization SEED. SEED aims to bring sustainability education to underprivileged classrooms in Montreal, Canada. After taking an EPI course in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Cameron was inspired to start SEED to improve the rate of environmental literacy among elementary and middle school students, particularly those from low-income and marginalized communities. SEED's mission is to bring free and interactive lessons to underserved 3rd-7th grade classrooms, introducing students to environmental problem-solving through a hands-on activity. SEED's main objective is to introduce its "Branches" into classrooms, inspiring students to take action for their communities while also fostering an inclusive and open classroom environment.
"The inspiration and guidance EPI provided me with in Yellowstone was unforgettable, and I think it’s demonstrated by how two years later I’ve now been able to bring back what I learned in Montana to make change in my own community."
Clean-Up and Upcycle
EPI Costa Rica Alum, Andrés, is on a mission to reduce plastic waste in his community. After learning about the harmful effects of plastic on the environment through EPI, specifically on leatherback sea turtle hatchlings, Andrés felt inspired to come up with his own local solution. Beyond cleaning up plastic that doesn't make its way into a recycling bin, Andrés plans to use the collected plastic to build tables. The tables will be tangible examples to community members showing creative environmental solutions.
"Being a part of EPI gave me insight into the causes and solutions on various environmental problems present inside and outside of my community. EPI is allowing me to make a change in these issues, and make a change in a generation of young people."
Youth Environmental Leadership 2.0:
Our first two-time winner, Sebastian, continues to impress us with his commitment to empowering and educating youth in the Galapagos Islands. Sebastian is a cultural manager at CENDA Galapagos, an experiential educator at the ECOS Foundation, and the president of the Youth Advisory Council of Santa Cruz. This year, Sebastian is leading a workshop for 13 to 18-year-olds on becoming leaders in conservation themselves. One of the proposed activities is a bay clean-up, where students will collect trash via kayak!
"Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to lead community cleanups, leadership workshops, and youth empowerment activities. All of this is done with the intention of inspiring more young people, like myself, to take action towards protecting the environment of Galapagos. I love the flora and fauna of Galapagos and feel privileged to live in this archipelago, which is why I work every day to conserve it."
Virgil Phillips Farm Restoration Project
Soon-to-be four-time EPI Alum superstar, Jasper, has a plan to restore Idaho's Virgil Phillips Farm area to its native wetland state by constructing Beaver Dam Analogs (BDAs). The BDAs, which mimic beaver dams once found in the habitat, will enhance the natural processes of wetlands and create an inviting environment to restore beaver populations. The method for constructing BDAs involves using untreated cedar posts with natural debris, such as thistle stalks and dried blackberry branches, woven into them. By obstructing the flow of the stream, riparian vegetation should hopefully return to its native ecological condition.
"EPI showed me a taste of the real-world work ecologists and biologists do. Being outdoors and working with my hands are crucial personal values I want to apply to my work. EPI showed me that it's not as foreboding as I thought it would be to formulate and execute a restoration project."
Thank You Zarri-Rooney Family!
Cameron, Andrés, Sebastian, and Jasper exemplify the incredible creativity and dedication of EPI Alumni in conservation. From educating underprivileged students about sustainability to using biomimicry to restoring wetland habitats, each winner has demonstrated a unique approach to addressing environmental challenges around the world. While only four projects were selected for funding, we encourage all EPI Alumni to visit our alumni program page and explore the various resources and opportunities available to support their conservation efforts. Congratulations to our winners for their outstanding work and contributions to the future of conservation!
The Alumni Leadership Awards are made possible by the generosity of the Zarri-Rooney Family. Want to support more students in their conservation leadership? Chat with our Alumni Program Coordinator, Sierra, for information on how you can help more young people make a big difference. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.