Skylar Peyton ('18)
What were your plans coming into college and how have they evolved since?
I came into school as an undeclared student! I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do and because of that I bounced from English to Theology to Biology - basically wandering around. As a senior, I look back and realized not only did I benefit from that wandering, but I continue to do so even within this major. I still don't really know what life holds for me, but I know I am walking away fully taking advantage of the liberal arts education I signed up for.
Why did you choose to study environmental studies?
I became an ES major almost by accident my sophomore year. My adviser told me that I really needed to declare a major before going abroad since my records indicated I was almost a senior. When I sat down a month or so before I left, I had all these sticky notes laid out with the different combinations of possible majors and minors, and I asked myself "which one of these will I learn the most from?". Then I remembered the painfully low grade I had gotten on a tree identification quiz in ENVR 175, looked outside at the incredibly flat Nebraska landscape, and realized the potential for growth in environmental knowledge. Not only have I learned a lot, but I've also come to realize that regardless of what I do with my future, I'll never regret learning my way around the woods.
Have you participated in any study abroad, ABE (Alternative Break Experience), or off campus learning experiences? How were they beneficial to the your major?
I am one of the biggest ABE supporters around. So far I have co-lead a trip every year starting with Peru as a freshmen and then New Orleans and finally San Francisco in 2017. ABE is one of those things that is so hard to explain, but so wonderful. I've been able to walk away from each trip with a pocket of information that is incredibly unique and culturally useful. Related to ES, ABE's focus on intentional living and community go hand-in-hand with the ethics of the major.
I also studied abroad in Fremantle, Western Australia the spring semester of my Sophomore year with a cultural pretravel in Southeast Asia. Additionally, I have made the most of my summers and tried to live in different places including the Black Hills in SD, the North Shore of MN, and on a farm WOOFing in Kaeo, New Zealand. These experiences have been beneficial in taking what I learn in the classroom and applying it to larger context of our world. It's wonderful to be able to identify different species on the spot and write a killer paper on government policies, but until it is put into perspective, it is just information. Learning how to relate to one another, how to share information and ideas even if they differ, is a vital skill that comes from these types of experiential learning opportunities.
What sort of extra-curricular activities are you involved in?
I work for campus ministry on the Spirituality and Social Justice team. Specifically, I focus on issues of environmental and criminal justice. This includes gardening opportunities, events focused around clean water, and J' Walking. As cool as it would be to say I walk across streets for a job, J' walking is actually a program where every other Saturday I take a group of students to the local transitional housing facility where we foster relationship with men who are coming out of prison. Besides work, I'm an avid plant lover and partake in some of Dr. Steve Saupe's Plant Science Alliance activities. I am also a Jackson Fellow and a Bonner Student Leader which both facilitate civic engagement and community service on campus and in the community.
Please describe your internship experience (past, current, or future).
For my internship, I worked at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center up in Finland, MN. Located on the shore of Lake Superior, Wolf Ridge aims " to develop a citizenry that has the knowledge, skills, motivation, and commitment to work together for a quality environment". For the summer, I worked as an Organic Farm and Animal Education Intern. This meant I spent my time split between caring for the captive raptors and other educational animals on site, teaching classes to kids ranging from 6-18 on the local ecology, and working on a produce farm that went directly from field to fork. Some highlights of this experience included meeting Thistle (a North American Porcupine and my bff), pulling especially rowdy kids out of the mud in the bogs, pretending to be on Big Brother with my 28 housemates and coworkers, and gaining a new perspective on the beauty of environmental education.
Do you have any advice for students applying for jobs relevant to the field?
I am not sure I know any real advice for obtaining jobs/ positions besides apply, apply, apply. If you hear of a position and it causes an itch in your skin or a knot in your gut, you should do it regardless of qualifications. Be passionate, ask a lot of questions, and take the time to know the people as well as the organization you are looking into. Also use the resources that CSB/SJU has (Jackson Fellowship, Ethical Leaders, Honors Thesis Fellowship, etc) to make the most of your summers. There are so many opportunities that it is actually overwhelming. These scholarships are not always advertised the best so ask around (upperclassmen and professors) to see if you can find a way to make these four years an experience tailored to you.
Do you have any advice for current or future environmental studies majors?
Take classes that make you uncomfortable, meet a porcupine if you can, and don't be afraid to walk into your professor's offices. They have a wealth of resources, opportunities, and advice, but more importantly they genuinely want you to succeed. Take advantage of their support and community.
What are your plans and goals for the future?
Currently, I am trying to survive thesis and graduate! But after that, I am hoping to serve for 2 and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer with hopes of graduate school afterwards.
If you could be any animal, what would you be and where would you live?
Tough question. I hear Manatees basically wander around, sleep, and socialize all day and that sounds phenomenal. However, I think I would have to be a firefly living somewhere on the prairie.