When we first met Lauren as a high school senior 8 years ago, we were struck by her drive to succeed and her capacity for leadership. These attributes, and an outstanding high school resume, are the main reasons we selected her as our first-ever Battier Take Charge Scholarship recipient. Now, as she prepares to receive her Master of Science in Environmental Studies from the State University of New York, we’ve asked her to reflect on her time in college and her experience as a Take Charge Scholar, and provide us with some insight on where she is headed next. All of us at the Battier Take Charge Foundation feel confident that she is well on her way to changing the world. These are her thoughts:
“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; If in terms of ten years, plant trees; If in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” – Confucius
Graduating high school, I was one of those kids pushing at the gate ready to run out and change the world. I was motivated by a desire to challenge global injustices and I felt that my niche was the environment. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, oil spills, industrial farming, poaching… an endless list of problems worth fixing. I left metro-Detroit for a beautiful university in the north woods of Michigan, and sought to learn all I could about the workings of our natural environment. I figured once I received that Environmental Science degree then I’d be qualified and ready to do it all.
Entering undergrad I was immensely grateful for the scholarships I received that got me through each year. I could not have done it without those vital seeds of support. The Battier Scholarship was definitely the most substantial of all those seeds, a coconut among acorns, but at this point I didn’t yet realize its growth potential.
Graduating college, I was less confident. The degree certainly taught me a lot about the marvels of our world, the incredible interconnectedness of all species, and the causes of many of its modern-day ills. I’d engaged in coursework and experiences that put me on track to become a field biologist or park ranger or research scientist. All are incredible professions that do wonders to preserve the natural world and restore wounded ecosystems. But something still felt missing to me.* With this degree I was now qualified for these tree-tending efforts, but those acts alone didn’t seem to reach the heart of the problems that motivated me. I wasn’t sure which direction I needed to go in next, but I knew I still had more growing to do.
The scholarships that supported me through my years of college succeeded in their goal – they invested in me and I received my intended degree with high honors. I’m very grateful for each and every one of them. The Battiers stood apart from the others, however. They were the only foundation to ask how I was doing each year, as well as the only one to send personal congratulations once I finished. It was obvious at this point that they weren’t content with just planting seeds, they fully intended to see the trees we’d become.
I spent two years after graduation trying to figure out how I wanted to move forward. During those years I taught elementary students – first English classes in South Korea, and then earth/life sciences in the US. Through this I realized it was the human element that I felt was lacking in my first degree. I understood principals of ecology, but that wasn’t enough to truly explain the environmental problems we face today. What I needed to learn was why humans have lost their connection to the environment, and how to restore that connection.
Back to school again, I’m now finishing a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. Combining the biophysical sciences with the social sciences, I’m researching community-based conservation efforts. How do people relate to the natural world, and how can these relationships be fostered for a more sustainable future. My studies have touched on countless environmental and social issues, many of which tie back to the values of education, empowerment, communication, and collaboration. I’m once again optimistic for the potential to facilitate positive changes.
It’s been eight years since I first heard of the Battier Take Charge Foundation, and 4 years since my scholarship with them ended, but their continued commitment to me and their other scholars is endlessly inspiring. Their summer Leadership Retreat was an incredible experience of learning and networking, immeasurably valuable. In everything that Shane, Heidi, and Newell do for this foundation it is evident that they want to do far more than just support us financially. They’re leading by example, showing how making positive change means cultivating relationships and teaching others what we’ve learned.
I know I still have a long way to go, but it’s been a pleasure to grow alongside this foundation, and I look forward to seeing where we’ll all end up.
*On reflection, I can almost directly connect my change of heart to an Indigenous Environmental Movements class I took my final semester, along with studying abroad in Tanzania for 5 months – both experiences shook my worldview in all the right ways. My biggest advice to other students is to try to take a class or two that’s taught outside of the dominant Western paradigm, and find time to study abroad if at all possible.