A Passion for the Environment

When it was announced that Larry Morris ’65 would be named the 2019 Horace Dutton Taft Alumni Medal honoree for a lifetime of service through the Quebec-Labrador Foundation (QLF), Katie Bootsma ’20 and Maile Kuyper ’20 both took note. As the rising editor-in-chief of The Papyrus, Katie was charged with writing about Morris, the award, and his dedication to environmental stewardship. As a lifelong environmentalist, Maile was deeply interested in QLF’s global conservation initiatives. 

“The environment has been a really huge part of my life for as long as I can remember,” says Maile, who grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii. “Environmental awareness is very much part of the culture back home. When I came here, I realized that wasn’t the case for everyone, and I was very eager to talk with Mr. Morris about that when he came to Taft to speak at Morning Meeting.”

Morris encouraged Katie and Maile to consider applying for summer internships in Canada with QLF. And they did. Each spent three weeks working with the group in Canada: Katie for a week in their Montreal office then in the field in New Brunswick; Maile in the field for the duration. They both worked with college students and recent college grads through QLF’s Biodiversity Conservation Internship program. It is a program, Katie says, with two main goals: monitoring wildlife through hands-on fieldwork and educating area youth.

The wildlife component took Maile, Katie, and three other team members—an environmental geographer, an ornithologist and biologist, and the internship coordinator—into the woods and along the coast of New Brunswick, where they surveyed the bird population.

“We began our fieldwork by meeting with members of the Nature Trust of New Brunswick to learn how to properly conduct surveys,” Maile explains. “We learned how to identify and track the movements of various species of shorebirds, and how to survey songbirds through auditory identification in the forests and woodland areas.” 

Because the songbirds are most active at dawn and dusk, the team would begin their woodland surveys by 6 am, hiking through the forest, stopping every 500 meters to listen, identify the species by their calls, and note their presence in a shared field journal. As high tide approached, the team would leave the forest for the shoreline, where they shifted from auditory identification to visual monitoring.  

“QLF will enter all of the information we collected into a database, says Maile, “so it was important that we were accurate in our work, and consistent in our methodology. We were encouraged to be active, independent members of the team, each with our own important role and contribute. They did an incredible job training us to effectively fulfill those roles.”

It was their roles as teachers, however, that brought Katie and Maile some surprises, and a great sense of fulfillment.

“Youth education is a really big part of QLF,” Katie says. “One of their founding objectives was to educate youth about the environment so that they could begin to more fully understand and appreciate the natural world around them. It is something Mr. Morris stressed to me time and time again.”

Each of the interns conducted research around an environmental issue, then either developed an original suite of educational materials (scripts, games, and digital presentations) or updated an existing QLF package around that topic. Maile studied marine debris, while Katie explored wetlands. They presented their work to children ranging in age from 5 to 15 through workshops at YMCA camps and other local youth and community centers in New Brunswick, Canada. 

“Inspiring young people to care about the environment was unexpectedly easy,” Maile says. “Once they begin learning the facts and comprehending their importance, they want to take action.”

It is a revelation Katie shared. “A few days after our workshop at one of the YMCA camps, our internship coordinator received an email saying that the campers and counselors had been so fascinated by my presentation that they planned a trip to visit nearby wetlands preserves. Knowing that I had left behind a group of budding environmentalists was motivating. I realized I did not have to be an ‘expert’ to have an impact, I simply had to be enthusiastic about learning and teaching something new.”

Katie and Maile hope to bring elements of their internship experience into daily life at Taft. Through their roles as eco mons, both hope to bring greater emphasis to environmental issues on campus and to use I Block classes, Morning Meetings, and global education programs to raise consciousness and awareness throughout the school community. 

“The experience has definitely made me a more informed Taft student and a more informed eco mon,” says Katie. “For me, all of the work I did with QLF made me more open to learning about and understanding the challenges facing our environment. I learned so much from the other interns and from the amazing people we met in New Brunswick, and hope to share that with our community.”

Maile agrees. “It was incredible to spend time engaged in really meaningful conversations with hundreds of passionate people across New Brunswick who have dedicated decades of their lives to conservation. They have such a great understanding of the problems we're facing, I know we can and will do something to advance that same understanding here at Taft.”

QLF exists to promote global leadership development, to support the rural communities and environment of eastern Canada and New England, and to create models for stewardship of natural resources and cultural heritage that can be shared worldwide. Larry Morris ’65 is QLF President Emeritus. Learn more at qlf.org.

Maile and Katie received support for their work from the Robert Keyes Poole '50 Fellowship, established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole, Taft master from 1956 to 1962. Fellowships are awarded annually to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole's lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.