Anna Hankins: The Journey of a Young Activist

My name is Anna Hankins and I was born on Earth day. I have always loved nature, but now in my senior year of high school, I am about to take my love of the outdoors to a new level.

Taking off on a new journey
My plane quickly gained altitude as the woman sitting next to me typed on her laptop. I was writing in my journal and saying good bye to my life as an average teenager. I was off to Nova Scotia, about to meet nine other teenagers, and work with two Oxford University scientists. This was my Earthwatch Mammals of Nova Scotia expedition. We would spend the next two weeks taking population counts of small mammals at the Cook’s Lake research site, and learning about the effects of climate change on these indicator species.

Expedition Journal, Day 1:
“Today we arrived in Halifax. The people on this trip are so similar to me, but none of us are quite the same. Even though we all say things a little differently and have our own lives back home, I know for these moments there isn’t much that makes us different.”

It all began with a fellowship application
I applied for the Earthwatch program after a teacher had nominated me, but I had no idea that the two weeks I spent in Canada would change my perspectives on the world and change my life. I had an incredible two weeks working with the most inspiring scientists and students I have ever met, and it became clear that Earthwatch was really just the beginning for me.

Expedition Journal, Day 3:
“Today we spent hours walking through the thick Canadian wilderness. I’ve never felt this exhausted. I’ve never felt better than this.”

During my Earthwatch expedition, I worked with Dr. Christina Buesching; learning to humanly trap and release small mammals and conduct population counts.

During my Earthwatch expedition, I worked with Dr. Christina Buesching; learning to humanly trap and release small mammals and conduct population counts.

Since that summer, I have had numerous incredible environmental opportunities. My environmental science teacher nominated me once more to participate in a National Science Foundation-sponsored college class at Worcester State University, Environmental Data Analysis. The class gave me insight into the statistical side of being a scientist. Through that class I was selected to participate in a National Science Foundation-sponsored Sustainability Internship, where I worked with different environmental organizations in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Expedition Journal, Day 6:
“I love the field work, almost as much as I love all the people here.”

I believe the best way to get people to protect the environment is to get them outside and active! During my Sustainability Internship, i worked on cleaning up a wheelchair accessible trail.

I believe the best way to get people to protect the environment is to get them outside and active! During my Sustainability Internship, i worked on cleaning up a wheelchair accessible trail.

Turning Green
Then just a few months ago I became involved with the California-based organization, Teens Turning Green, through my participation in Project Green Challenge (PGC). PGC was a month long challenge to transform my life from conventional to environmentally-conscious. I was then selected as a finalist and flown out to San Francisco to participate in Green University. During this weekend, the other thirteen finalist and myself were given the opportunity to work with environmental leaders and each other to work on building campaigns and we learned how to become activist within our own schools and in the world. At the end of the weekend I gave presentation in front of a panel of judges and the other finalists, recapping my thirty day transformation. I was selected as the second place winner out of over 2,600 students from around the world that participated.

Speaking engagements & banning the bottle
Next I will be attending and speaking at EXPO West, a large trade show for organic products in Anaheim, CA in March 2013. I am also working very hard to get styrofoam plates out of my high school, along with one-use plastic water bottles. Currently the petition to get plastic water bottles out is being circulated at my school and around the community. We are working hard to purchase hydration stations and reusable water bottles that can sold at the school store. After only a week we have already received over 2,000 signatures!

Expedition Journal, Day 9:
“Today we hiked through an old growth forest at Keji National Park. It was like walking through time. It felt like I had been swallowed by the trees. Everything is so big and frankly I am just so small.”

The adventure continues, then off to college to become a hydrologist
This summer, I am hoping to intern for Teens Turning Green in California, spend a month working for Wildlife ACT on a South African wildlife preserve, and attend the International Students Energy summit in Norway. I will be attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, beginning in the fall of 2013. I am planning to major in geology and international education. My ultimate goal is to be a hydrologist. I want to be an activist, a scientist, and an educator. I have been drawn to the study of water because every water issue is so interdisciplinary and thus solving these problems will have to come from an environment, economic, political, and social standpoint. Water is so universal and so unifying – I hope that if I can teach people and corporations to respect water, than I can teach them to respect one another as well.

My best friend Hanna and I at my Project Green Challenge presentation in California. The best part of being a young environmental activst is sharing my message with others.

My best friend Hanna and I at my Project Green Challenge presentation in California. The best part of being a young environmental activst is sharing my message with others.

Looking back, here’s my advice…
Looking back to five years ago, I could never have imagined I would be where I am today. My advice to anyone who wants to become an activist is to not hesitate to take action and to not be afraid of your own voice. Young people are incredibly powerful and young people are the ones who will change the world. I think people need to lead by example, change your life first, and show others the way.

The most important part of being a young activist is increasing your own knowledge, teaching others, and then learning some more. I believe in the power of each individual and subsequently I believe in the power of all of us to work together to make change happen.

Those two weeks I spent on my Earthwatch expedition certainly shaped the course of my high school career, as well as my future. I still talk to most of the other students from the expedition; I consider them to be some of my best friends. Someday I hope to lead an Earthwatch expedition, but this time from the position of a scientist. I would love to give young people the same incredible experience that Dr. Christina Buesching and Dr. Chris Newman gave me.

Expedition Journal, Day 14:
“We are about to leave for the airport. Mary-Kate, Emma, Devon, and I woke early and walked down to the harbor to watch the break of dawn over the water.”

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