How do you connect bison research in the Rocky Mountains to sea turtle conservation in the Gulf of California? By airplane is one way to do it, but in our case, it's with EPI Mexico alumna Salma Macias. Salma recently stopped by our Missoula office to share her eight-year (and counting!) environmental education journey with us, just before repacking her duffle bag and embarking on her next adventure. Join us as we delve into Salma’s inspirational journey from the southern Baja peninsula to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Salma was just about ready to graduate high school when EPI Mexico came to her class with information about the local Island Ecology course. With her love of the ocean and marine animals, Salma eagerly put her name on the list, ready to get out of the traditional classroom and into the water.
“I didn’t do great in school. I was that kid always playing and getting lost in my head. Because of EPI’s outdoor classroom model, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the world.”
One week spent on Isla Espiritu Santo, an island north of La Paz, Mexico, had a profound impact on Salma. It not only deepened her understanding of the local ecology, but also fostered a greater connection with her community and classmates. As many of our alumni can attest, camping without the distractions of phones has a way of creating lasting friendships and unforgettable memories.
Later, Salma attended a sea turtle conservation workshop led by a local EPI alumni ecoclub, the Californios Verdes. The way the Californios Verdes student leaders guided the participants through hands-on sea turtle work while speaking passionately about a number of environmental concerns in La Paz inspired Salma to join their efforts. Salma became an active participant, meeting with the group for two hours a week to plan activities like beach clean-ups and field trips.
“The Californios Verdes know that even though we are young, we have powerful voices to solve problems.”
So how does someone so dedicated to her community and marine biology find herself in a graduate program in Wyoming? By being accepted into an incredible field-based environmental education program at the Teton Science School (TSS). Salma arrived in the tiny mountain town of Kelly, Wyoming, in the Fall of 2022 to begin her graduate program, leaving her beloved beaches behind for record-shattering snowfall. Now in her second semester at TSS, she found a way to connect her studies back to where it all began: EPI!
Salma will instruct three courses for EPI Yellowstone to fulfill practicum requirements for TSS. While she is finding it challenging to translate her knowledge of marine biology to the terrestrial wildlife of the GYE, the number of skills from EPI Mexico that do translate are helping her take the lead. No matter the ecosystem you’re in or the language you speak, everyone finds meaning in place-based education. Salma’s repertoire of games, leadership skills, and group management abilities learned from the Californios Verdes have served her greatly as an EPI Yellowstone instructor.
“EPI taught me that it doesn’t matter if you’re young or not a scientist- we all can be stakeholders to protect the environment wherever we are by getting involved and acting as a community.”
Salma's story is a testament to the power of environmental education in shaping the lives of young people. Her journey from her first EPI experience in Mexico to her current pursuits in graduate school and practicum with EPI Yellowstone is a remarkable example of that impact. We hope Salma's story has inspired you to continue supporting and advocating for environmental education, as it truly has the potential to create positive change in our world.