This past summer, Julia Paino ’13 (Environmental Studies major and Business minor) had an extraordinary experience that most collegiettes could not imagine in their wildest dreams! She joined National Geographic explorer, Mike Fay on an environmental expedition in Alaska. With her bravery, passion and tenacity in everything that she does, Julia is truly a model for adventurous collegiettes!
Her Campus: How did you first get involved with this opportunity?
Julia Paino: I was put in touch with Mike Fay through one of Skidmore’s Carr Lecturers, Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund. I emailed Mike and did not hear back for many months. When he finally got back to me, he told me that he did not offer internships, but he would be on an expedition in Alaska this summer. I was persistent in the matter that I join him and his group. My persistence paid off and eventually Mike agreed to let me join the team in Alaska.
HC: Tell us about the experience. What was the wildest part of your trip?
JP: I was in Alaska for about seven weeks. We were based out of Ketchikan Valley, as well as the Unuk Valley. Mike had hand built cabins for us there. There was about seven of us total for the expedition. He opted to sleep outside, though. Luckily, the temperature ranged from 40 degrees to 60 degrees, so the lack of heating and air conditioning was not too much of an issue. We had a fireplace, as well as an outhouse with three walls. If I wanted water, I would have to canoe to a waterfall and fetch it myself and boil it over the fire to sanitize it. Every day, we would fly into remote locations on Mike’s seaplane. We literally went to places that no humans have ever been before and conducted field studies. I primarily helped out with photography, as I studied under the late photographer, David Prifty, for several years. On our routine flights, Mike would literally make me open the plane door, wrap the seatbelt around my arm, and take pictures. There were some days when I thought to myself, “I won’t get out of here alive.”
HC: What kind of studies did your group focus on specifically?
JP: We studied the fishing industry, and in particular how fish have been caught in overconsumption. There is a fish shortage, and we need the government to regulate these things. Also, we studied climate change. The environmental crisis is out of control. The planet can’t bounce back unless drastic measures are taken. Global warming severely affects the wildlife. Baby bears are dying, because they cannot catch salmon that once were available to them. Due to the warming earth, fish are not as plentiful in the rivers as they once were. Mike would see baby bears and knew they had a matter of hours to live. We also witnessed eagles floating dead, as they didn’t have the nutrition and energy to fly. Our expedition will be turned into a documentary sometime in the next one to two years. Tripp Jennings was responsible for the majority of filming for the upcoming documentary.
HC: How has this experience affected your future plans?
JP: I have always known that I wanted to work in environmental preservation and conservation, but this experience opened my eyes to things I have never seen before. As I said earlier, government regulation is so important. We are at a crucial stage. I also learned to be more self-sufficient and independent. I currently work for a technology company, Wildland Security, which makes a device to catch poachers on a global scale. First we are going to install several devices in Kenyan reserves, and then move into other parks across Africa. I am in charge of the business aspect of things with Wildland Security. I was ecstatic to recently win $5,000 from the Skidmore Friedman Initiative Business Competition for the organization. I plan on continuing my work with Wildlife Security once I graduate in May. I want to be able to travel, while simultaneously working on environmental issues and helping protect the remaining species on this planet.
We can’t get enough of go-getters like Julia who go after their dreams with drive and persistence! Know someone with a cool story? Nominate them to be our next campus celebrity!