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Back to School With YLC

This piece is part of a series of "Back-to-School" blogs penned by our Youth Leadership Council members. Each blog highlights a different way to bring a conservation-focused mindset to campus.

Elizabeth Sherr, YLC Member 

Summer has reached its peak -- say goodbye to your weekday barbeques, trips to the beach, and of course, worry-free netflix binges. The bittersweet time has come to leave family and home, but to also say hello to new classes and friends. Maybe you’re going to a college with a lot of familiar faces or, as was in my case, maybe you don’t know a single person going with you. Either way, every new school year serves as a new chapter in your life.

I remember having a butterflys-in-stomach type of feeling filled with nervousness and excitement as I looked out the window on the plane to Florida. The biggest transition was leaving a high school where everyone knew each other for a huge campus where the phrase “just a number” is stereotyped. I wondered, “How will I find myself in this sea of people?” I quickly made friends, but barely anyone I met was an environmental major. Wanting to make my passion for conservation matter, I looked into more ways to connect with my school, the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at University of Florida.

If you’re a fellow nature lover, here are a few tips to get involved and expand your environmental platform in college, and make a few great friends along the way.

  1. Visit your advisers and take the time to read their chain e-mails. They know the ins and outs of your school within the college, and their guidance can help you find an organization to join or an internship!     
    I received an e-mail from my advisor about an application for EarthEcho's Youth Leadership Council. I knew about the non-profit from high school, so the e-mail caught my eye. I applied, and now you’re reading my blog post as a YLC member! So you never know what you might come across. The opportunities are endless.
  2. Talk to your peers in your classes, you might find out that you share a passion or hobby with someone. Together, you can either start a club of your own, or have someone to join a club with! 
    I met a friend who is a Marine Science major in one of my freshman classes and was so glad I finally found someone with similar career interests. She told me about a school club she joined, so I decided to attend the next meeting. Fast forward to the present, we’re both on the executive board of that club, the UF Surfrider Foundation. Together we participate in monthly beach clean-ups and more!
  3. Get to know your professors. 
    Having connections with your professors can lead to promising letters of recommendation in the future and the potential of working on their research. An awesome summer internship opportunity might come your way and if it requires a letter from one of your professors, sitting in the back of a class with over thirty students won’t help you. Meeting with your professors at least once in the beginning of the semester will make it easier for you to approach them if you need help in the class or in other areas of academia.
  4. Explore your environment. 
    I couldn’t stop gazing at Florida’s biodiversity as I walked around campus. The springs, palm trees, birds, and alligators displayed a completely different environment than what I was used to. I wanted to explore more of what Florida had to offer! I started typing words into the search box like, “UF nature/marine/camping club” and came across the UF Outdoor Adventure and Recreation Club (OAR). Their page had a list of camping, boating, and hiking trips. I didn’t know anyone going on my first trip, but I thought, why not try it out? I ended up going on an overnight backpacking trip to the Ocala National Forest, jumped into clear Florida springs for the first time, and improved my camping skills. I have gone on many more OAR trips and exploring my surroundings has made my wildlife classes more interesting because I am able to actually see what I am learning about! Forget about the fear of not knowing anyone because if it’s fun for you, you’ll have a great time and will make friends too.

By expressing environmental interests and combining them with those of my peers, I was able to expand not only my environmental platform, but also my leadership skills. Whether it's tabling outside the library for a petition or starting a new project idea with a club, you can be part of making a difference for your community. Any source of environmental action is powerful. This is your time to let your voice be heard, to take charge of where you want your future to go, and to make a difference so you can look back and be proud. Trust me and these four easy tips. I went from knowing no one to making new friends, environmental impacts in and out of campus by joining clubs and organizations, and most importantly, learned more about myself. Take advantage of what your school has to offer, and get excited to start anew.

How will you amplify your echo on campus? Let us know using #OurEcho on social media.