Student Forum - Silas
A College Student's Perspective: Early Exposure to Nature
Biophilia is a word that means humans have a genetic predisposition to love nature. I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I do believe this love for nature must be unlocked by spending time among the plants, insects, and animals all around us. Being among nature is how my passion for a better earth started for me. From an early age I was outside running through the woods, climbing trees as high as I could, all while doing a terrible job avoiding poison ivy. As I grew older, after seeing glimpses of the news on TV, I started to learn that the nature I had come to love was in serious danger. Climate change and a decrease in biodiversity are two of the major threats that, if not fixed, will lead to the demise of humans.
After learning about climate change, I decided to take a marine biology class as a senior in high school. This class fueled my passion for wanting to make a difference. Ms. Goodrich, our teacher, not only did a brilliant job of scaring us about the future, but she gave us ways to have a positive impact. I expressed my interest in the environmental fields and Ms. Goodrich invited me to join the environmental club at school, where we did a beach cleanup at Plum Island, Massachusetts. Soon after taking this class, I knew that I wanted to study the environment in college. Ms. Goodrich also presented me with the opportunity to be a summer intern for the Gulf of Maine Institute (GOMI) during the summer of 2021. Most internship opportunities present themselves in a student's junior or senior year of college. I am one of those lucky few that took part in an internship the summer going into their freshman year of college.
That year Pentucket High School was invited to participate with GOMI in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant to create a field studies sanctuary habitat on campus. My internship, supervised by Ms. Goodrich and Dr. Terry of GOMI, had the goal of reconstructing the campus brook wetland into a habitat sanctuary. This included building a trail to make the area more accessible for classes. During that summer, I learned to identify invasive species such as knotweed and bittersweet, and learned how to remove them to make room for native species. I also learned to identify some of the local trees such as maple, oak, and ash, and started to learn how connected the land and water are. All of the information I learned and the tasks I completed were presented to Mr. Seymour, the principal of Pentucket High School, by Ms. Goodrich and I. The goal of our presentation was to get Principal Seymour on board with protection of the wetland and for outdoor classroom experiences to be part of a new course to be taught by Ms. Goodrich in the spring of 2023. My experience as a part time intern for GOMI taught me to be self motivated and to truly value the environment.
Today, as an environmental science major at The University of Rhode Island, I find my perspective and opinions on the state of the environment are very different from many of my peers with differing majors. Classes such as natural resource conservation, conservation biology, and sustainable food systems have shown me the harsh reality of human impact on our climate. Everyday, in lecture halls full of students majoring in environmental studies, humans' negative impacts on nature were presented. More and more, I was convinced that the state of Earth needs all hands on deck and I felt motivated to do my part. Sadly, not everyone is able to listen to these lectures.
If the younger generation only learns about the environment in lectures, how will they come to value matters like biodiversity, renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions? I believe the answer is exposure to nature from an early age. Early exposure to nature shows the youth that humans and nature live together. The environment is a part of our lives, not something that we need to protect to have something nice to look at. Hands-on learning will be more effective than classroom lessons in teaching the youth about the interrelationships between the natural systems. Early exposure to nature will also give the youth an opportunity to learn the names of butterflies, birds, plants and other species. Being familiar with some of the organisms that live all around us will provide a deeper connection. The desire to protect these species will increase after seeing and experiencing them in person. Curiosity will also increase, leading to questions and more curiosity. Lastly, doing good deeds is addictive. Something as simple as building a birdhouse and putting it on a tree will make students feel good about themselves. The students will learn that they provided a home for birds and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Although children need to experience nature for themselves, there also needs to be effective communication between the youth and the workers in the environmental fields. The younger generation needs to know what is going on with the climate so they can begin to formulate their own opinions, come up with solutions, and take action. One factor that is essential for effective communication is using language that both sides can understand. It is challenging to explain complicated scientific issues without using complicated vocabulary, but it is necessary to start the next generation on the right path to asking questions and restoring the environment. Another factor that is essential for effective communication is the scientists and environmental workers having the desire to educate the youth. It is very easy to continue researching and working without worrying about the next generation. It takes more courage and energy to take the time to figure out a way to explain the science in simple terms and communicate that to young learners.
From a college student's perspective, an introduction of nature to the youth by hands-on learning and communication with environmentalists will result in the next generation truly valuing the environment. In no way am I suggesting that the next generation needs to pursue environmental or even science based jobs. What I am suggesting is that the next generation will prioritize putting a stop to climate change by asking questions and developing solutions.
Silas is currently enrolled at the University of Rhode Island as an Environmental Science major and heading into his sophomore year. He graduated from Pentucket High school in West Newbury, MA, where he has lived since birth. In High school, Silas played football, basketball, and baseball and is a huge Boston sports fan. In his free time, he enjoys competitive yard games such as cornhole and learning the acoustic guitar.