The New England Outdoor Writers Association (NEOWA) is a large group of outdoor writers and photographers that promotes wildlife conservation and professionalism in outdoor communication. Each year, NEOWA awards significant scholarships to a wildlife major from all six of New England’s land grant universities. The hope is that these wildlife majors will go on to reach out to the public and tell the story of wildlife conservation and the important role that sportsmen and sportswomen play in wildlife management and funding.
As a representative of NEOWA and chairman of the scholarship committee, it has been my privilege, and my wife’s, over the years to interview the University of Maine wildlife majors and select a deserving student. Without fail, Diane and I always finish up our “interviews” feeling inspired by what we see and hear from these wonderful young people. In a world seemingly awash in senseless violence and cultural decay, our experience with these students is a vivid reminder that good things are happening in spite of all the bad news.
The year’s NEOWA scholar from the University of Maine is wildlife major Meija Knafl. A Michigan native, Meija graduates soon and will be returning to her home state to work for the Natural Area Preservation Group in Ann Arbor. Her aspiration is to “create new ways for children to engage with nature.” Watching the young millennials, full of hope and idealism, you wonder: Will they attain their goals? Will they leave their mark?
In Meija’s case, as with so many of the other achievement-oriented students we spent time with, we know that the answer is “absolutely.” If you spent a half hour talking with any of them, you would see what we saw: remarkable poise, focus, motivation and a honed intellect.
All of this is a credit, not only to the upbringing of these promising young adults, but to the higher educational system in which they matured and learned. It is no wonder that the University of Maine’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation is one of the most respected wildlife schools in the country.
As Dean Fred Servello said at the Celebration of Excellence banquet held to honor these outstanding students, they were helped along not only by a first-rate faculty, but “their success is a reflection of the outstanding community that has helped them along the way.”
Among the thousands of dollars of scholarships that are awarded to these UMO students from various groups and organizations like NEOWA, there is one group that outdoes itself year after year after year. The Penobscot County Conservation Association (PCCA) awards more than 20 significant scholarships to deserving UMO wildlife majors. According to Mac Hunter, chairman of the wildlife department, who hosted the scholarship presentations this year, the PCCA over the years has gifted more than $1.5 million in collective scholarships!
Often unnoticed in our focus and enthusiasm for these UMO scholars and their 4.0 GPAs, is the quality of research that is also the hallmark of the University of Maine. Our hat is off to Jasmine Saros, who was presented the Outstanding Research Award during the evening banquet.
It won’t be long before these new graduates will also be leaving their mark as educators, researchers and biologists.