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Environmental March Madness Tournament: Colby Profile & Q&A

As part of our sponsorship of Enviance’s first-ever Environmental March Madness Tournament for environmental studies, Environmental Leader is publishing Enviance-penned profiles of the winning schools as well as Q&As with students from the individual programs. Congratulations to Rochester Institute of Technology, Colorado State University, Purdue and overall winner Colby College.

Name: Yiyuan Qin
School: Colby College
Major: B.S. in Environmental Studies

The environmental studies program at Colby College is one of the oldest in the country, and also one of the fastest growing programs at the school. In addition to encouraging its students to take part in local environmental initiatives, Colby also takes its own environmental impact very seriously. The college was one of the first in the nation to purchase 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, and is fully committed to achieving carbon neutrality. Environmental studies students don’t have to travel far for field studies either, on the east side of campus is a 128-acre wildlife refuge used as an outdoor laboratory.

Considering the college’s dedication to environmentalism, it’s no surprise that Colby College emerged as the “National Champion” of the first-ever Environmental March Madness Tournament for Environmental Studies; designed to evaluate colleges and universities on their academic and sustainability prowess as it relates to the environment.

The tournament, hosted by Enviance and Environmental Leader, saw 16 schools face off for a shot to win national recognition and a $5,000 award to their Environmental Studies department. Each university relied on its faculty and students to submit photos, essays and videos explaining why their university should be crowned the National Champion.

As part of the tournament, one student from each school that advanced to the “Final Four” stage of the tournament will be profiled in Environmental Leader. Yiyuan Qin from Colby College was selected for a student profile.

Yiyuan didn’t take the most direct route to Colby College. She was born and raised in a small city called Chenzhou, in the Hunan Province of China. Despite being over 12,000 miles from home, Yiyuan knew Colby College was the right place for her because of the strength of its environmental studies program and the school’s environmental values and initiatives.

As a child, Yiyuan would take trips to the park just outside Chenzhou with her family. Later in high school, that same park where she spent much of her childhood was tainted as discharge from the local mining industry found its way into the stream that wove its way through the park. Yiyuan took action and launched a campaign at her high school, reaching out to 5,000 students and nearby communities in the hopes of raising awareness about environmental challenges through a series of events like movie screenings and environmental pledges. She also invited a World Wildlife (WWF) officer in to speak about the Dongting Lake in Hunan province which faced its own environmental issues. The experience exposed how vulnerable nature can be to Yiyuan, and she became determined to stand up for the environment; which had brought her so much joy in her youth.

At Colby, Yiyuan has been able to channel that passion for supporting the environment and apply it to a number of projects which have created real change. She is most proud of the work she’s contributed to research about where and how to reintroduce South China tigers back into their natural habitat, relying on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis and modeling to learn about the ecological and societal challenges facing these animals.

We took some time to speak with Yiyuan, to hear more about her experience at Colby College, her thoughts on the Environmental March Madness Tournament, her plans after graduation, and much more.

Q: What was the reaction from you and your peers when Colby was announced as the National Champion?

Yiyuan Qin: We were obviously very happy and proud of our achievement. We not only have a wonderful program with excellent students but also a dedicated group of students and faculty who put in a lot of hard work to showcase our school and its environmental studies program during the competition.

Q: Why do you think your school did so well?

YQ: The environmental studies program at Colby College is a real close-knit community. We are supportive of each other and very often work together, both in and outside of the classroom, through class projects, hands-on experience and civic engagement. We love our environmental studies program and were excited to show how great it is.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest environmental issues facing the world?

YQ: It is almost impossible to name just a few. But I believe climate change, loss of biodiversity, waste issues, public health and over exploitation of natural resources are a few of the most pressing issues. And are all interrelated in one way or another under the rules of today’s world.

Q: What solutions do you think are required to address these issues?

YQ: It is crucial that people work together. We must connect the dots and think about the future. Coursework, projects and research opportunities at Colby have opened my eyes to a wide range of perspectives. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of environmental problems prompted me to recognize the value of collaboration and acknowledgement of differences.

Q: What would be an ideal job for you after graduation?

YQ: An ideal job would allow me to continue to see the world through different lenses and interact with people through independent research. I hope to apply my knowledge and skills to discovering solutions in the field of conversation, natural resources management and environmental planning.

Q: If you had to pick one positive impact you could make on the environment, what would it be?

YQ: Protecting and restoring wildlife habitat through integrated urban and infrastructure planning.

Q: If you could pick one piece of environmental legislation, real or hypothetical, to be passed in the next five years, what would it be?

YQ: Strong protection of Maine’s treasured North Woods. It’s the largest remaining undeveloped forest in the Eastern United States and is at risk from multiple threats.

Q: What advice do you have for students researching environmental studies programs?

YQ: Reach out to current students and faculty, learn about possible opportunities, be open-minded, and think big.

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