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Great Outdoors Wilderness Education Scholarship

1 winner$1,000
Application Deadline
Apr 1, 2021
Winners Announced
Apr 27, 2021
Education Level
Undergraduate, Graduate
Recent scholarship winners
“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

Upon becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.

In doing so, “the conservationist president” laid the groundwork for one of the most wonderful parts of life in the US today.

From towering Redwoods to eternal Ponderosa Pines, from Joshua Tree to Shenandoa, from the Pacific Crest to the Appalachian trails, and from sea to shining sea, we have so much to learn from the time we spend in the wilderness.

As anyone who has ever taken a camping trip knows, the outdoors teach us teamwork, problem solving in the face of unpredictable adversity, empathy, leadership, health and wellness, and more.

These skills translate to our day-to-day lives, leading to improved school performance, physical, mental, and social health, and emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development.

As our global climate crisis deepens, it has never been more important that we preserve both our environment and our joy for outdoor education and exploration.

Roosevelt foresaw this a century ago, writing:

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted.”

The Great Outdoors Wilderness Education Scholarship is for students who have incorporated the outdoors into their education, worldviews, and career goals in some meaningful way.

Students who have worked as wilderness trip leaders, organized or participated in outdoor education sessions, spend significant time in nature on their own, have career aspirations in environmentalism and conservation, and more are all welcome to apply!

Selection Criteria:
Passion for Outdoors, Ambition, Impact
Published December 9, 2020
Essay Topic

What is your experience in the great outdoors? What have you learned? How does your wilderness experience affect your career goals?

500–1000 words

Winning Application

Erika Cabell
University of Hawaii at ManoaHonolulu, HI
Athena Verghis
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main CampusColumbia, MD
Her soft dancing glimmer contrasted the beating summer sun of the mid-Atlantic. As two osprey flirted above us and leopard frogs led hymns of a repeating hum, I experienced an epiphany - her unparalleled beauty must be preserved. To many, she is seen as an abandoned home of irredeemable repair, but to me, she is a great host of life. Like an inspiring teacher, she leads by example, and has taught me to be selfless, resilient, and most importantly, to remember my roots. She is the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay began dying as heavy development led to insurmountable amounts of litter, runoff, and toxic bacteria, killing most life in the water. Regardless of these challenges, she remained resilient. By solely increasing mussel populations in riverbeds, the dissolved oxygen levels increased and turbidity cleared. Furthermore, it restored underwater plant growth, improving soil quality and therefore, aquatic plant life. Using the Chesapeake Bay as a mentor, I mirrored her resilience when tackling AP Chemistry. Though I would understand the concepts, I would not do well on assessments which soon reflected in the grades I brought home. Instead of letting myself get washed by this setback, I used this opportunity to work through assignments and past tests with my teacher after school, find study resources in books and join evening Skype calls with other students. Furthermore, I applied these techniques to other classes and taught them to peers or students I tutored. By the end of the year, even though chemistry did not become my easiest class, I found the course extremely interesting and was proud of the type of student and learner I had become. Like a fresh bed of mussels in the Bay, new approaches in how I studied for chemistry brought unforeseen and long-term benefits for me and those around me. Healthy soil, productive farms, and climate stability are a few indirect and often underappreciated benefits the Chesapeake Bay provides for residents. The nearly endless list of services has taught me to do more than is expected of me — to serve others and the environment in many different capacities and to do so frequently. Growing up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the value of sustainable practice has been embedded in how I treat our natural resources. Due to overharvesting in the bay, oyster populations have been dropping, negatively impacting the rest of the ecosystem. However, naturally, these shells, if returned back to waterways, are capable of rebuilding oyster reefs to restore populations. This sparks my insatiable curiosity. With a sense of exploration, I have personally defined creativity as toying with what is in front of me to improve not just myself but also those around me. Through interdisciplinary learning and observing details around me, I have felt truly myself and found ways to better my community. The pile of shells encourages me to look beyond the current system of excessive waste. Like a Coke bottle or the daily newspaper, I consider the option of recycling these shells. In theory, creating a closed-loop system like this would be successful, but I am stuck logistically. Do the shells need to be clean? Who would collect the shells from the restaurants? Will there be any incentives for restaurants to participate? These are all things that come to my inquisitive mind as I envision this plan. I connect with different volunteer-based organizations, peers I could reach out to, and create a timeline for the project. Once we get back home, I start searching the web to quickly find environmental organizations with similar oyster shell recycling programs and interest to expand into my hometown of Ellicott City. After many tedious yet fruitful conversations and email threads with local restaurant owners and volunteers with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we are able to establish a new relationship between the root of overharvesting and its modest solution. I had to learn a new language of small business owners to better relate to my audience. Many crab shacks and oyster houses are now able to collect shells to be picked up for monetary compensation and stand as a more environmentally conscious business. A simple family dinner has now redefined its value because of a small shell that caught my attention at the end of the table. Most significantly, the Chesapeake Bay reminds me of my ancestral home in Kerala, India, specifically its natural beauty and the recent onset of issues both areas face. Currently, intensified monsoons and heatwaves in Kerala have brought powerful and long-term destruction to the land and people. Though specific species may be different, both ecosystems are facing the consequences of erosion, poor environmental legislation, and a changing climate. These similarities have helped me realize a vision to restore Kerala as well with the tools I have learned in the Chesapeake Bay. Committing to saving the Chesapeake Bay has opened my eyes to ways I can serve globally, especially for my family in India. Today I sit on the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board and work with influential adults who have made me realize the value of a student’s voice. I am thankful I have found a voice to serve and protect her because she permeates every part of me. Through the time I have spent with the Bay and her rivers, hills, and people, I have decided to dedicate my life’s work to preserve our natural resources by pursuing an Environmental Engineering undergraduate degree. Thinking about the next four years, I can easily envision myself working with honeybees, electricians, and policymakers — maybe even all at the same time! As an environmental engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, I will be engaging with and learning from every system and part of our environment and society to truly understand every angle of a problem. Tech offers me unique opportunities to develop skills I hope to one day use back at home, redesigning Baltimore, to structurally prepare the city to withstand the effects of climate change.


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Apr 1, 2021. Winners will be announced on Apr 27, 2021.

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