October 20, 2014—Growing up in Wisconsin instilled a love and respect for the outdoors in environmental biology major Elena Noyes (C’15). She attended wilderness camp throughout her childhood, and during her senior year of high school she went on a month-long backpacking trip in Montana.
“My interest in the environment has stemmed from that outdoor background,” Noyes explained. “I feel like my best self when I’m out there.”
But when Noyes first started college, she didn’t plan to study the environment.
“I came into Georgetown very dedicated to the idea of majoring in biology of global health. I even wrote my essay about how I wanted to be a doctor, but when I got here I realized that wasn’t my passion,” Noyes said.
Noyes, who began working for the Center for the Environment as a first-year student, was soon on her way to declaring her major in environmental biology, which she describes as “an interesting mixture of hard sciences, policy, and interdisciplinary studies.”
“It’s not a soft-science major,” Noyes emphasized. “There’s just more room to be creative in learning about science, sustainability, and communicating what you know.”
Noyes also added a minor in science, technology, and international affairs, through which she’s learned “how to think about science not just in lab and the field, but what it means for the general population.”
One of the things Noyes enjoys most about her studies is that she applies them to other facets of her life. As a member of The Corp Green Team, she has the chance to support initiatives like this month’s Kill the Cup University Challenge, part of a nationwide effort to promote sustainability.
Featuring 10 universities, the challenge invites students, faculty, and staff to help reduce waste produced by disposable coffee cups. The schools that make the greatest strides in environmental awareness can win $5,000 to fund their own social impact projects. Noyes serves as an ambassador for Georgetown’s team.
One of her most transformative experiences took place last year when Noyes studied abroad near Queensland, Australia, where she conducted research on the economics of ecotourism. Noyes and her fellow researchers interviewed more than 200 tourists from all over the world who had visited free World Heritage Sites in Australia. Noyes focused on how the tourists’ feelings about the sites would change if an entrance fee was required.
“What I found was that most domestic travelers would not want to pay an additional fee, whereas those who traveled from abroad were much more willing to pay upwards of $10,” Noyes said.
After more research and analysis, Noyes proposed that the government implement a $5 fee and try to increase interest domestic travel.
Due to the remote location in Australia, Noyes was largely disconnected from her life back in the United States—including social media and the Internet. But the change was something she embraced and looked forward to.
“I wanted to be sure I was completely immersed in my experience,” she explained.
Feeling inspired after her stint abroad, Noyes interned at the Wilderness Society this past summer in Washington, DC. There, she saw firsthand how a grassroots ethos can impact policy and legislation through her work with programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
LWCF helps protect natural resources and lands by providing funds to federal, state, and local governments. Subject to appropriations each year, LWCF must be continuously reviewed—Noyes’ work focused on examining fund recipients in specific districts and what they were able to accomplish through LWCF support.
“I loved working at the Wilderness Society,” Noyes said. “That’s what has really pushed me into pursuing environmental nonprofits as a career path. I’m really interested in the grassroots angle.”
But four years ago, if you’d asked Noyes what she wanted to do with her life, she probably wouldn’t have mentioned an interest in the environment.
“When I came to Georgetown,” she explained, “I didn’t think that I could turn my love of the outdoors into an actual career. But when I learned about the environmental biology major during my sophomore year, I realized it was possible to have this as my passion and my career.”
Noyes plans to continue to build on this passion no matter where life takes her—especially in a field that’s continually evolving.
“What’s challenging is that people are still really unaware [of many issues],” Noyes said. “It’s not that they wouldn’t care if they knew; they just haven’t been exposed. But it’s the little things that make a difference. What you do as an individual does matter—you can make a difference.”