These days, college students wear many hats, but few juggle their studies while running a non-profit organization.
Senior Vanessa Alejandro co-founded Warriors of the Wild—an organization dedicated to teaching children about science—in 2012 while pursuing a geology degree at UH.
“[Co-founder Connor Jacobson and] I started [Warriors of the Wild] because I felt that a lot of kids didn’t know about the environment, animals, biodiversity, recycling and all of that,” she said. “Then [the organization] slowly transformed into science education.”
During the past four years, Vanessa and her team have presented to over 5,000 students in the Houston area.
“We go to schools and just do an hour-long presentation about science,” she said. “We saw that a lot of schools wanted us because we could teach a little; it wasn’t just a random presentation.”
Vanessa’s work has earned her attention—and the title of Top 10 College Woman—from Glamour magazine.
“Every college nominates women for the competition and then Glamour goes through all of the applications from the U.S. and Canada,” she said. “They have a finalist round and they keep going until they have only 10. They choose you because they want to see that you’re making an impact within the field you’ve chosen.”
Vanessa received a trip to New York and write-up in the print and online versions of the magazine.
“It was awesome,” she said. “They flew me to New York for a photoshoot in January and flew me there again in March for the ceremony. They took us all around New York and we met people from LinkedIn, Google, everywhere.
“[But] one thing that Glamour missed, I think, was that I do a lot for science,” she said. “I’m a scientist. I did research for two years and [studied] climate science.”
Vanessa’s path to success, however, came with a few roadblocks. When she was 19, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“I was actually in the Grand Canyon, doing a semester and I was diagnosed there,” she said. “I came home, had surgery, returned and finished the semester. I came back home and did [treatment with] radioactive iodine, which put me out of school for a year.”
After being declared cancer-free in October, Vanessa is looking forward to her future.
“I’m applying to different fellowships,” she said. “I want to do that for a year or two, get some experience under my belt and then go to graduate school.
“My goal is to just live life. I want to have influenced at least one person and actually change their path in a more positive direction.”