To Conserve, to Teach, to Inspire

by PaHoua Lee

My parents were born and raised in Laos. They were farmers, built homes from mud and plants, and did their best to live off the land. Although they immigrated to the United States in 1985, their love of farming has persisted to this day. I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and each summer of my childhood was spent alongside my mother in garden plots my family rented, shaping beds for seeds and seedlings, watering and weeding by hand, building structures for green beans and peas. Our hard work was rewarded with a harvest of succulent fruit and vegetables each season. When I wasn’t helping my family in the garden, I was cruising through town on my bicycle, or playing with my friends in the park until after sundown. It wasn’t until my second year of college that I realized how much nature and the environment meant to me.

I was a hardworking student with no declared major after two years, enrolling in all the classes that had interesting descriptions, when I stumbled across a biology course called Plants and Society. I was raised in a family who ate dinner together every night, enjoying home-cooked meals my entire life until I moved away for college. Food was an important part of my life, so I enrolled in Plants and Society, hoping to learn more about how people use plants for purposes other than food.

My mind was blown! There were so many amazing plant adaptations, flowers from every color of the rainbow, a multitude of uses from leaves, stems, roots, and shoots! I experienced a spark. I felt empowered. I needed to do something. I needed to learn more about plants! I was finally ready to declare a major: Biology.

I became a plant nerd! I flourished in plant identification, found myself astonished at the wonders of new flower buds every Spring, touched every leaf I could reach from my 5-foot-tall frame, collected twigs, and inspected fallen seeds and seed pods. My appreciation of plants led me outdoors even more. With my newfound respect of all the plant-life in my world, I started going on bike rides again, seeking out peace in the safety of tree limbs, and discovering tranquility in the running rivers of Wisconsin.

This rediscovery of the outdoors triggered in me a strong sense of purpose — to conserve all that nature has to offer, to teach others about nature’s wonders, and to inspire everyone I meet to make a positive impact on the environment. These personal missions of mine have propelled me to work as an environmental educator at several organizations. This journey has led me to the Student Conservation Association, where I have been allowed to teach, to participate in conservation work, and to have hopefully inspired other individuals to take care of our public lands and our communities.

In July, I start my third crew for the SCA. I want to thank you in advance for visiting our parks and doing your part to make sure they are well-kept so that everyone behind you can have the chance to love the outdoors as much as I do.