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From the Rockies to the Boardroom: Earthwatch’s Ripple Effect

In 2013, fifteen-year-old Judith Santano found herself in a realm far removed from the familiar in the vast landscapes of the Wyoming Rockies surrounded by lush nature. She had joined a two-week expedition to study songbirds as part of Earthwatch's Ignite program. Judith's experience in the Rocky Mountains ignited a passion for nature and created a ripple effect that continues to unfold, expanding the impact of nature, science, and education on others.

As an Ignite Fellow, Judith spent her time learning and exploring with scientists and other students on a fully funded research expedition. The young students hiked along a mountainous backdrop, banding birds, observing nests, and collecting data that would become part of a database containing a decade’s worth of observations.

The trip was full of many firsts for Judith—first time getting on a plane, first time going hiking, first time meeting a scientist. Here, Judith began to grasp the broad scope of science, allowing her to see it beyond lab coats and preconceived boundaries.

Fueled by her profound Earthwatch experience, Judith channeled her stories and learnings into her application to Stanford University. Initially enticed by biochemistry, her passion evolved towards an Earth Systems Major. Earthwatch's people-centric mission echoed in her choices, leading her down interdisciplinary paths where education, communication, and science intertwine. Judith chose a path that would allow her to study the impact of humans on the environment while teaching her how to be an effective science communicator and educator.

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Fueled by her profound Earthwatch experience, Judith channeled her stories and learnings into her application to Stanford University. Initially enticed by biochemistry, her passion evolved towards an Earth Systems Major.

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Navigating Board Membership with Purpose

Determined to bring transformative nature experiences to others, Judith returned to Earthwatch as an Environmental Educator intern during her sophomore year of college. This internship wasn't a conclusion but a bridge to more resounding contributions.

In 2019, Judith joined the Earthwatch board of directors after careful consideration. Judith was aware of the significance and responsibility behind this decision. She wanted to ensure that her involvement would allow her to make significant changes to amplify systemically excluded perspectives rather than place her in a tokenized position.

Today, as she pursues an ecology Ph.D., Judith resonates with many identities—educator, advocate, and leader. Even before diving deeper into academia, Judith recognized the urgent need to be intentional about including systemically marginalized and diverse perspectives in sculpting solutions to environmental crises. Judith champions the ripple effect synonymous with Earthwatch's approach. She stresses the importance of engaging people in environmental solutions beyond formal STEM education. By facilitating experiences that connect people with nature and science, we can empower everyone to play an active part in protecting our planet.

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Today, as she pursues an ecology Ph.D., Judith resonates with many identities—educator, advocate, and leader

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During my time on the Board, I have seen board members, and Earthwatch as a whole, grow in important directions. I vividly see the impact my voice has had in our conversations and I’m proud to see how seriously my opinions are considered. My generation lives in a constant state of being overwhelmed with how much work there is to do to address the many catastrophes our world faces. It is easy to feel that our actions don’t have substantive impact. My time on the Earthwatch board has ingrained what my Ignite expedition made me feel a decade ago: Though small in size, our actions have the potential to create enough ripples to make a bigger impact. One person can change the world, and that person can be me.

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At the heart of Earthwatch's mission, every engagement and contribution nurtures transformative journeys of positive impact across communities. Judith found a way to pay it forward by transforming a 2013 fellowship experience into impactful board service and more. How will your impact ripple into the world?

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