Students from Chamblee Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia conduct a habitat survey – looking for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife – in their school garden which is used as an outdoor science lab. Chamblee Middle School received a Nature Works Everywhere garden grant, in partnership with the Captain Planet Foundation, during the 2013/2014 school year. © Nick Burchell

Captain Planet Stressed Me Out

As a child I was discouraged from watching a television program called “Captain Planet.” It was an animated feature about a superhero battling environmental injustices around the world. My mother didn’t discourage me from watching it because of the content; rather, I was steered away because of the stress it induced in me as I watched the environment being destroyed by “bad guys.”

Eventually, I channeled some of that stress into an undergraduate degree in Environmental Geoscience, and now envision a career focused on environmental justice.

Captain Planet in the Flesh!

It’s been over a decade and a half since my first encounter with Captain Planet, but it wasn’t until recently I was able to meet my childhood hero in the flesh. During my masters studies in Development Practice at Emory University I had the privilege of being the Youth Engagement Intern with The Nature Conservancy in Georgia where I assisted in the implementation of a Nature Works Everywhere (NWE) School Garden Project.

The Conservancy has partnered with the Captain Planet Foundation, an Atlanta-based organization supporting environmental stewardship, to install gardens in 10 schools across the Atlanta area. When I arrived at the first garden build, which was awesome in so many ways, there he was, Mr. Captain Planet himself. Blue skin, green hair, and all.

While meeting Captain Planet was an exiting moment, my internship is memorable for many reasons. Not only did I have the privilege to work alongside fabulous Conservancy staff, but I got to do it while supporting their effort in cultivating the next generation of conservation leaders; an aspect of environmental sustainability I believe is critical.

It’s Not Just About the Garden

I was impressed by the way the Conservancy didn’t want to install school gardens just to install school gardens, but rather to “connect the dots” as one colleague would say, and to make it as impactful and as wide reaching as possible. (This was accomplished by integrating the NWE Garden project with LEAF alumni. If you haven’t already, you should definitely read more about it here.).

It may be a biased opinion since I myself benefited from the Conservancy’s youth engagement, but I believe, given the appropriate strategy, youth engagement can lead to powerful results. I’ve witnessed and experienced its potential.

Captain Planet helping kids build gardens in Atlanta. © Aaron Coury
Captain Planet helping kids build gardens in Atlanta. © Aaron Coury

My adventure with the Conservancy doesn’t end there. Interning at the Atlanta office gave me a unique insight into the organization, which ultimately helped me land a GLOBE internship. In fact, I was one of two lucky GLOBE interns who were able to take their internship overseas.

From Atlanta to Ecuador

In June 2014, I set off to rural Ecuador where I had the privilege of working on a climate change adaptation project involving sustainable agriculture and riverbank restoration.

In the tropical dry forest of coastal Ecuador, the Conservancy is working with community members to improve water conservation through crop diversification and plantings to help stem erosion along rivers and stream banks.

My job was to work with participants, mainly farmers, to create a register of the current progress of the project. This included visiting each site, recording the status of the plants, and interviewing participants. It was an incredible experience that not only gave me insight into conservation at the international level, but also helped me find and develop my strengths and skill sets, and determine where they can be best utilized.

Caitlin McColloch working on community conservation in Ecuador. (image courtesy Caitlin McColloch)
Caitlin McColloch working on community conservation in Ecuador. (image courtesy Caitlin McColloch)

Ever since I was little I knew I wanted to work toward creating a more sustainable planet, though I didn’t know exactly where I would focus my efforts.

My time with the Conservancy, both in Atlanta and in Ecuador, has exposed me to the people side of environmental work. From working with youth in Atlanta, to small-scale farmers in Ecuador, I see the environment impacting real people, real lives, and feel called to do something about it.

Given the fact that ecosystems are ultimately shaped by social context, it is critical for conservationists to look at their work through a social lens. As a young professional interested in conservation and social justice, I am so thankful to have had these opportunities with The Nature Conservancy and to have been able to integrate my two passions.

Innovative and Socially Conscious

While some say my generation (Millennials) is spoiled and lazy, I like to think of us as innovative and socially conscious. And that’s what we can bring to conservation – a unique perspective that seeks to understand the issues of conservation through a myriad of lenses.

Four months after my GLOBE internship, I landed my current job: Temporary Field Office Project Manager for an international human rights organization in Guatemala.

In this position, I am able to put to use the ability I gained with the Conservancy to work with data sets, review them, and communicate what they mean. I am consistently using the ability I gained to balance various tasks and priorities, and have learned when and where it is most appropriate to take initiative, particularly when working with high level staff and external partners.

While my current work is not focused on conservation, I am grateful for the experiences that led me here, and I look forward to being able to utilize my new skills in conservation in the future.

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
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