VFAS summer intern London DiIorio, who will be starting her senior year at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School, was invited to attend the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment.  Here is her first person account of her experience.

The Washington Youth Summit on the Environment (WYSE) is a week-long experiential learning program for high-achieving high school students where students learn from experts and experience an integrated and hands-on approach to exploring and solving environmental issues. This past January, I was invited to attend WYSE as a National Youth Delegate from Pennsylvania. Held on the campus of George Mason University just outside Washington, DC from June 26th to July 1st, I participated in the week-long environmental conference to broaden my knowledge, network with others across the field, and heighten my passion for wildlife conservation.

That Monday, our schedule immersed us into conservation and the animal world. I visited the Smithsonian National Zoo, exploring the park and its many animals, and later heard from experts who worked at the zoo in a panel discussion. The speakers explained the complex logistics of managing the zoo and delved into all that goes into caring for the animals. The following day I visited Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah National Park

While much chillier on the mountainside than I expected from the Virginian humidity, my group hiked the trails of Skyline Drive and learned from a National Park Ranger. She explained the tumultuous history of Shenandoah and discussed how the land is home to many protected species– even some found exclusively within the park– such as the Shenandoah salamander. Various presenters discussed environmental justice on Wednesday and defined what we can do to combat injustice and advocate for the earth. In the evening, we participated in a detailed simulation activity regarding an elementary school sitting on contaminated property, playing the roles of the actual groups involved in the case, and overcoming challenges thrown at us during discussions. We wrapped up our conference on Thursday, free to tour National Mall and its museums at our own particular interests. I, along with the good friends I had made during the week decided to travel to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. There, I was able to view countless taxidermied and preserved creatures, ranging from a stunning diorama of African wildlife, a plethora of bird mounts and articulations, and one of the only Thylacine specimens that remain on this earth.

Sable antelope taxidermy

WYSE not only provided me with an experience to remember but gave me an outstanding opportunity to network with environmental researchers and experts. As an aspiring taxidermist and wildlife conservationist, WYSE allowed me to discover what is being done to protect endangered and declining species, further kindling a passion for preserving the critical biodiversity of our earth.