From Freshman Year to Fighting Climate Change

From Freshman Year to Fighting Climate Change

IU Northwest Student Accepted as an IU McKinney Climate Fellow

For most, freshman year of college is about acclimating to a new environment, meeting new people, and getting comfortable with university-level studies. But for Haley Weiland, freshman year was about much more than just that.

The environmental science major, having just finished her second semester at IU Northwest, was accepted as a McKinney Climate Fellow with the IU Environmental Resilience Institute. This program involves 40 students from all five IU campuses and gives them the chance for summer-long externships in an area of interest.

Weiland has always been fascinated with the natural world. “I got lucky that I can have a career in something I am so passionate about,” she said.

While she hasn’t quite decided on a focus area for her studies, her time as a McKinney Climate Fellow has offered her invaluable experience. Through her fellowship, she worked with Shirley Heinze Land Trust (SHLT), a local nonprofit that aims to preserve the natural landscape of Northwest Indiana.

“My main goal was to quantify how the SHLT contributes to mitigating climate change,” Weiland said. “I utilized a computer program that produced reports on the environmental benefits and values of that forested area based on local meteorological data and their model. I learned a lot through researching and trial and error.”

Today, Weiland is certainly glad she took the leap and applied to the fellowship. But when she first heard about the opportunity from Associate Professor of Biology Spencer Cortwright, she wasn’t so sure she was up to the challenge.

“We debated maybe [Weiland] should start out with a lower-level summer internship,” Cortwright said. “But then we thought, if you can conquer this level of thinking now, it will really get you on a slope toward a deep knowledge of your career choice.”

With Cortwright’s support, Weiland nerves were short-lived. She discovered the team at SHLT was ready to help her learn the ropes. Now, she’s well on her way to making a difference in the region, thanks to both her data collection skills and passion for connecting people to the environment.

“SHLT does a great job of providing opportunities to get involved with nature, and I hope they continue to get people connected with nature,” Weiland said. “All life has intrinsic value, and it’s our duty to respect and protect our fellow life forms.”

Cortwright notes that Weiland and SHLT’s work is particularly important in Northwest Indiana. “A lot of our nature preserves are small because of the high level of development that we've had. A small preserve, plus a changing climate, could have compounding problems,” he said.

Climate change is a daunting problem, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean individuals like Weiland can’t have a positive impact. “Every little thing you do makes a difference—even though you may not be single-handedly stopping climate change, just being able to save one butterfly or one bee is worth it.”

That individual level of thinking is crucial. Thanks to Cortwright’s dedication to taking interest in individual students’ goals, Weiland was able to take a huge step toward a career in environmental science. “Faculty take great interest in their students. Talk to any of us—as long they (the student) let us know their interests, we’ll work with them to connect them with their passions.”

As long as Cortwright, Weiland, and so many like them recognize that one person can make a difference, the fight against climate change is just ramping up.