Editor’s Note — This is part of a weekly student conversation series highlighted as part of Hispanic Heritage Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series will feature students who are making impacts on campus and beyond. This week, hear from Isabella Villanueva, a fisheries and wildlife major with minors in environmental science and water science from Lincoln, Nebraska. By getting involved in a range of campus organizations, Villanueva is stretching her strengths, building a network and ensuring she makes her mark on campus and the world.
How did you originally become interested in conservation and wildlife?
Growing up, I always had a strong connection with the environment and wildlife. Whether it was exploring the backyard with my brothers for bugs and animals, reading nonfiction wildlife books from my school library, or watching shows about animals, I loved learning and being in nature. When coming to college and choosing a major, it was a no-brainer, fisheries and wildlife was the major for me. I knew that for a future career I wanted to be out in the field saving wildlife and doing the dirty work so that pointed me directly to this major. I think that my parents also helped fuel my passion for the environment by taking me on walks around my neighborhood or going fishing at Holmes Lake. But from childhood, my interest has only grown!
I was able to study abroad in South Africa for a month this last June focusing on conservation and animal behavior and then was a part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington. In this two-month immersion internship, I was able to study climate justice and the importance of BIPOC individuals in conservation fields. These opportunities have been life-changing and have grown my interest in wildlife exponentially!
You’re really involved across campus. How have your involvements helped you grow or make an impact?
Yes, I love being engaged on campus! This year I am involved in Delta Xi Nu Multicultural Sorority, Mexican American Student Association, Executive Vice Chancellor Student Advisory Board, Student Ambassador for the School of Natural Resources, Rock Climbing Club and MANRRS. These involvements have made a big impact on me and helped me to network and make amazing friends. They have increased my love of learning and helped make college a little less stressful. I always enjoy going to these activities because it gives you a good break from school work and keeps life balanced.
Why was being involved in a range of groups on campus so important and is there anything you’ve learned from being involved?
It is so important to be involved on campus! I know for myself, being a commuter student and coming into college last year, everyone told me to get involved so I could make friends and build connections. So that’s exactly what I did. I went to some of the club fairs at the beginning of the year and found some RSOs I wanted to be a part of. From there, I was able to make friends in many different aspects of my college career. This is exactly what I wanted from my college experience. I wanted to meet people from all different backgrounds, cultures, majors and places to help really understand the world and UNL. Overall, I would say that being involved is a very important part of college.
Talk a little bit about receiving a CASNR Change Maker scholarship and your big idea for the program.
Being a part of the CASNR Change Maker scholarship program has been wonderful! It has helped me to gain so much knowledge about entrepreneurship, leadership and community engagement. My idea for the project is a sustainable fundraiser that will help plant native and pollinator plants in our community with the help of local schools and community members. I am working with my mentor, Doug Golick, to make my idea come to life. This program has helped me to find people like me and connect with people in the field I want to go into, which has been priceless. Not to mention, it has helped make college possible financially with the help of the scholarship. This program has been a wonderful part of my college career.
Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
I definitely have a lot of dreams and things I hope to accomplish in my life. I think my biggest dream is to just make my family proud. I am first generation and the eldest daughter of four and I hope that whatever I do in the future reflects well on them. I also hope to make a big difference by helping the planet. The climate crisis is happening right now and my goal by going into conservation is to help with this massive issue. I also hope to travel the world and learn/experience as much of life as I can.
What or who inspires you?
Besides my parents, my biggest inspirations are probably Jane Goodall and Michelle Obama. First, Jane Goodall because of her wonderful representation and contribution to conservation. I have always dreamed of doing what Jane does. Secondly, Michelle Obama because she is so classy and a wonderful role model for all. These women are just incredible humans.
What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact on campus?
If you want to make an impact on campus I would say to don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people! College is all about trying new things. If you are thinking about joining a club, go! If you have a question in class, ask! Making an impact is all about being a person who isn’t afraid to be different. Even though it might sound corny, it’s true and it has been true for me.