Natural resources path attracts record number of world changers
Paola Garcia
Paola Garcia
November 17, 2021

URBANA, Ill. – This fall, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) is teaching and guiding its highest-ever number of undergraduates. Passion for preserving and restoring the environment helped drive the enrollment high.

Just ask Paola Garcia.

Garcia grew up in a Chicago suburb with little actual exposure to nature. Stories and shows – like The Lorax and Planet Earth – grabbed her attention. And kept it. So much so that seeing environmental challenges around her made her want to learn more and take action.

“I walked by a clearing every day on the way to and from school. It had been a huge natural space. Then it was empty. And then they turned it into asphalt and housing,” she says. “Kids need green spaces to play in and experience nature. I’m learning how to help make that happen in NRES.”

To learn more about courses, certificates and more, visit the NRES website. There you can explore, schedule a visit, and apply to become part of the Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) community. Those who want to start in fall 2022 need to apply by January 5.

In high school, Garcia, who had never even been camping, felt in her core the devastation caused by clearing foliage from Appalachian mountaintops. The documentary got its message through.

“Seeing wildlife lose its home caused a huge shift in me,” she says. “My friends were aware of losing wildlife and green spaces, but I just cared so much and wanted to make a difference.”

Garcia felt compelled to learn more about how species interact, how to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems, and so much more.

Enter NRES and its hands-on approach to learning.

“More and more, high school students want to help shape the future of our planet. They want to get involved and make a difference,” says NRES Department Head Robert Schooley. “With us, students can figure out how they fit in by exploring sustainability from all angles – from the classroom, out in the field, in the lab, and in life-changing internships.”

Garcia says, “I did a summer internship in local government near where I grew up. I worked on a new sustainability report, encouraged the town to get more involved in the Metropolitan Mayors’ Caucus, and even got to make recommendations to reduce carbon emissions.”

While she did her fair share of tours and family-focused outdoor events, Garcia believes she can make the most impact in an administrative role.

“Some of my peers are focused on research or destined to explore jungles and other natural spaces. I’m more built for an office setting, but I can still help make the world a bit more sustainable,” she says.

Environmental justice and other NRES courses clearly appeal to young people today.

“Students find the variety of courses here – and the variety of careers for them down the road – really attractive. They see what’s happening around them, including dramatic effects of climate change and habitat loss, and they want to play a role in a more sustainable planet,” Schooley says.

“They want to make a difference. And they quickly discover that at NRES they can.”