In the fourth grade, I buoyantly submitted a landscape drawing of a great mountain range to an annual scholastic art competition. The theme: “Beauty is…” I was sure that my jagged mountain peaks and misshaped birds were of the same artistic quality as the professional photos I had seen on the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. In retrospect, I may have slightly overestimated my mastery of the 64-Crayola Crayons pack. However, in my mind, the scene was beautiful.

Accepting my Frank Karel Fellowship with the National Wildlife Federation this summer, I have had the chance to rekindle my early passion for sharing the beauty and importance of our fragile, but spectacular ecosystems. I have also embarked on an inspiring mission to practice communications for the public interest. Every week, I am offered the opportunity to engage in workshops and meetings on nonprofit strategy to improve my industry expertise and functional knowledge of the field.

While stationed in Miami, Florida, my short time with NWF has proven to be an empowering experience in public service. I have had the freedom to focus on raising awareness for environmental issues that affect my home state. From pitching reporters about manatee sightings and boat parties in Pensacola on the Fourth of July weekend to tracking reports on toxic algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee, there is never a dull day as a Frank Karel Fellow.

Though my focus has been on key state issues and the restoration efforts of aquatic ecosystems, such as the Everglades, my days go by quickly and the tasks I handle are varied. One morning, I might be writing about legislation that could protect drinking water, increase climate resilience, and create jobs in the U.S. Next, I might be researching the latest on the North America Grasslands Conservation Act or sitting in on congressional hearings. Though fast-paced work by nature (pun intended), my fellowship has already offered countless opportunities to learn the most effective tools for social change.

As a writer myself, I am constantly mesmerized by nonprofit communications work and the potential for a passionate story to spark society into action. Brainstorming for a piece on “Love Notes to Public Lands,” a series of creative appreciation posts by NWF, I closely study the work of my colleagues. Wholesome and personal, they impart memories of camping trips, catching butterflies, or family vacations in the outdoors. These talented writers make a strong case for the need to safeguard our public lands using the power of story-telling. I am confident that the principles of advocacy they have instilled in me will remain helpful for years to come.

To be sure, the best part of serving in the 2021 Frank Karel Fellows Cohort is that everyone you meet is an advocate for something. I’ve met experts on national climate and energy policies, business magnates, public relations strategists, environmental justice journalists, nonprofit founders and of course, five other ambitious and creative Karel Fellows. Boot Camp seminars, such as Taxes 101, Grammar workshop, and Media Relations pass by swiftly when you’re in the company of so many committed change agents (Yes, even Taxes 101)!

As I continue my expeditious, eight-week fellowship, I can only hope to make the most of my experience. I can also proudly report that I have become much more skilled at communicating the beauty of my surroundings, and the importance of our natural landmarks and wildlife… without any crayons.