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Voices of Calumet: Sophia Vela Reflects on The Field Museum’s Environmental Education Programs

Sophia Vela is a sophomore at Purdue University’s College of Agriculture where she is majoring in Natural Resources and Environmental Science. Sophia grew up on Chicago’s southeast side and has been active in several Field Museum programs. Here she describes how the Calumet Environmental Education Program (CEEP) has helped her pursue an environmentally-focused career track.

Growing up and learning through the Calumet Environmental Education Program (CEEP) has slowly shaped the path my life would follow. However, my growing and learning has not yet reached its peak. The CEEP programs have provided mentors and guidance through many crucial moments and have influenced many of my decisions.

It all began with the many adventures with my elementary classmates during Mighty Acorns field trips. I was slowly being introduced to the natural world around me through what I thought was an extended recess. But little did I know that those outdoor experiences I had as a child, would pave the way for new opportunities as a teenager.

During high school I immediately got involvedwith another CEEP program, Calumet Is My Backyard (CIMBY). Throughout my years with CIMBY I applied the skills I learned in Mighty Acorns, like listening and observing, to concepts I was being taught out in the field with experts such as interpreting data and experimenting. As time passed and I began to get older, I began to understand the connection between each program and how important it is to understand nature before you begin to conduct experiments.

Afterwards, I became an intern at The Field Museum with another CEEP program, Ford Environmental Leadership Internship. This time I got paid to learn. As an intern I did a lot of group work and collected data in various subjects. The program introduced me to different careers and ultimately helped me decide what I wanted to study later on.

Then, the time came to apply to college and declare a major. I knew I was interested in the environment and I knew Purdue University was a perfect fit. Now I am a sophomore, studying Natural Resources and Environmental Science in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. My class load can be rather difficult but I wouldn’t change my course of study.  I decided to study Natural Resources and Environmental Science because it relates to everything I had already learned and experienced from the CEEP programs and was a perfect pick to continue learning. I like that all of my classes within my major are generally broad but still relate to the environment and still hold an importance. I have already taken three different chemistry courses, biology, botany, agronomy, environmental economics, environmental policy and the list continues.

The best part is that I get the chance to learn a little bit about every different science and it is amazes me how it can always be traced back to the environment in one way or another. Of all my courses I have liked environmental policy the most. In terms of the future and careers, I am not so sure what may lie ahead.  A career in environmental consulting is something I am beginning to consider based on my interests, but with each new course my interests and views change.