In my early years, a common sight every Friday night at the Zhang residence was my mom and I watching Planet Earth by David Attenborough and the BBC. I grew up a huge fan of the series because of the amazing footage of animals, plants, and ecosystems found on Earth. This early interest and appreciation for nature led me to sign up for a free bird-watching trip in 4th grade offered by my teacher. We toured the elementary school’s surroundings, and saw a plethora of beautiful birds like cardinals, robins, sparrows, and even a woodpecker. However, I also saw trash in a bird’s nest and litter scattered throughout these animals’ habitat. The up-close experience with nature that I had that day showed me how humans are negatively affecting the beautiful planet we call home.

After the trip, I committed myself to being more environmentally conscious. I now pick up litter whenever I see it, unplug chargers and devices when not in use, and even sleep in the basement with my family during the spring and summer so we don’t have to use air conditioning for the top floor. In a world where climate change, rising sea levels, and many other environmental issues seem to be worsening by the day, I believe any part we play can go a long way in mitigating and eventually ending environmental issues like what I saw at my school that day.

My project proposal is to work with that very teacher from the 4th grade bird-watching trip to provide young students from my old elementary school a trip to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. My teacher will act as a guide, pointing out types of birds, plants, and animals we see, while I teach about sustainability using knowledge from a National Geographic online course. My goal with this project is to spark a passion for nature and sustainability in these students as that 4th-grade bird-watching trip did for me. With the help of the CSGC, I hope to give these students a memorable experience and inspire a future generation of environmentalists.

-Derek Zhang ’22

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