The College Center for Environmental Studies awards our Environmental Studies Prize to the graduating senior who has excelled academically and made the greatest contribution to campus environmental efforts and awareness. This year’s recipient is Sarah Elena Dillabough, of El Paso, TX.
And boy, did she deserve it! We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work and learn with Sarah Elena; we asked her what inspired her to pursue a career in Environmental Studies, and to do so with such clarity and dedication. A glimpse at her story…
“I had always been an outdoorsy type of person; however, an experience I had in Fiji made me decide to pursue environmental studies in college. I took a volunteer trip for a month to Fiji and Australia. While in Fiji, on a small island accessible only by boat, with no cars, roads, or stores, I was walking along the beach with my best friend. We found our group’s trash scattered on the beach. Confused and upset, we picked the trash up. We began walking and met some local women along the way; we asked them what to do with the trash. They looked at each other, and with a smile told us to leave it on the beach. At that moment I realized that that is how they deal with trash. That experience on a beautiful island juxtaposed with the sad fact that all the trash was going into the ocean is what made me really want to go into environmental studies. It was one of those slap in the face experiences.”
And we are so thankful that she chose to start her path here with us at Austin College. We foresee great accomplishments from Sarah Elena as she works towards a career in environmental policy, education, and international conservation.
During her four years here, Sarah Elena made tremendous contributions to the Center for Environmental Studies as well as the Austin College Community as a whole. She excelled academically not just within her Environmental Studies major, but also as a Political Science major and French minor.
Outside of her classes, she was a dedicated member and leader in several student organizations and academic societies. To name just a few of these involvements, Sarah Elena was a member of Phi Beta Kappa National Academic Honor Society, the Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society, a Sara and Robert Hallman Citizen Scholar, and a Hatton W. Sumners Scholar in Political Science.
Most notably though, she served two years as a leader and team member for Austin College Thinking Green and the Student Sustainability Fund Comitttee – both integral components of the Center for Environmental Studies. Sarah Elena also earned a summer position with the Little Traverse Conservancy in Michigan, one of our internship partners, where she again stood as a committed and enthusiastic representative of Austin College and the Center for Environmental Studies.
“During my internship with the Little Traverse Nature Conservancy I worked closely with various members of the conservancy to accomplish stewardship tasks on trails, environmental education for young children, and leadership of volunteer groups on trail maintenance. I lived about 6 miles from the office, which is situated on a small lake and is right across from Lake Michigan; I rode my bike to work every day. I had a wonderful time in this beautiful area of Michigan meeting friendly people and doing work that I felt was meaningful; during my internship the conservancy celebrated the conservation of 50,000 acres of land in Northern Michigan.”
As an undergraduate Sarah Elena’s travel reached much farther than Michigan. During the first semester of her Junior year she studied International Relations, French, and Arabic in Marseille, France and Fez, Morocco. The next semester she studied River Ecosystems and Environmental Ethics in Cambodia and Vietnam with the School for Field Studies. Then during the summer of 2015 she participated in a Himalayan Studies program in Bhutan, again with the the School for Field Studies.
Aside from her achievements, awards, and talents, Sarah Elena is kind, positive, and thoughtful. It has been our pleasure to work with her in the Center for Environmental Studies, and we look forward to learning of her future accomplishments.
Previous Environmental Studies Prize recipients:
2004 Marc Olivier
2005 Emily Neiman
2007 Mari Elise Ewing
2009 Jade Elyse Rutledge
2010 Cleveland Powell
2011 Katherine Moore Masucci
2012 Christopher Bryan Donovan
2013 Yanela Montoya & Rachel Kathryn Sims
2014 Taliesin Kinser
2015 Sophie Higgs