Sophomore puts her education into action to promote sustainability, conservation

Samantha Shirk
November 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Isabella Briseño, an environmental resource management major, already has built an impressive resume for a future career in environmental policy.

In her second year at Penn State, she participates in the Student Sustainability Advisory Council, the Eco-Action Club and Environmental Justice Leaders, while also conducting research that promotes ocean conservation.

The Salem County, New Jersey, native said she chose the College of Agricultural Sciences because the environmental resource management major perfectly fits with her desire to understand the relationship between agricultural production and the environment.

“In high school, I became passionate about water quality and the conservation of aquatic species,” said Briseño. “I wanted a broad foundation in environmental issues to relate it to economics and policy to make a positive difference.”

Briseño started to make her mark by joining the Penn State Eco-Action Club and being selected for the Student Sustainability Advisory Council. Both organizations’ mission statements involve educating and building a sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

“I wanted to make an impact on campus around sustainability,” she said. “Because of my role in these instrumental organizations, I have met many other like-minded people who want sustainability changes at Penn State and to make it an even greener campus.”

The Student Sustainability Advisory Council works alongside the Penn State Sustainability Institute to help improve the University’s ecological footprint with students. Currently, Briseño and her team are promoting sustainability curriculum reform, such as developing a sustainability general education class and a sustainability school. They plan to present their proposal to University leadership at a meeting in December.

Briseño also appreciates the hands-on opportunities and supportive community that the college provides. “My major does a great job of blending environmental policy and economic issues,” she said. “It is important to have a foundation in all of those disciplines when you work in environmental policy, which I hope to do.”

Tammy Shannon, Briseño’s academic adviser for the ERM major, admires her passion for sustainability and environmental issues. “Bella is an outstanding student who unites people around sustainability and natural-resources issues to make a positive impact,” said Shannon.

While volunteering at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in 2019, Briseño took water samples of nearby waterways to aid in research about the effects of pollutants on temperature, pH and other water-quality factors.

Isabella checks water quality

Isabella Briseño, an environmental resource management major, evaluates soil quality.

IMAGE: Isabella Briseño

This experience encouraged her to embark on a marine science research project under the supervision of Laura Guertin, professor of earth science at Penn State Brandywine. What started as a summer experience before the pandemic has led to an ongoing position advancing ocean literacy. The goal is to educate others about the importance of fostering connections across disciplines, cultures and generations to address ocean-related issues.

“Our story maps provide an awesome interface to present information in a storytelling format with videos and audio clips,” she said. “I even created a version in Spanish because it is a popular language around the world. We can reach a broader audience to educate about the importance of marine conservation and water quality.”

Briseño, whose heritage is Hispanic, continues to pursue opportunities to learn the language and share information internationally. Starting in January, she will serve on the Ocean Advisory Council for the Hispanic Access Foundation.

“There is a huge Hispanic population that should have a voice in ocean conservation but is often underrepresented,” she said. “I am looking forward to contributing my experiences and knowledge of ocean conservation and water quality to support others like me.”

Briseño’s research and her major increased her knowledge of the relationship between ocean conservation and water quality. “There are so many consequences that show the direct relationship between our climate, the ocean and, even more broadly, freshwater. This includes the health of our ecosystems, which can have huge impacts on the economy and life on land.”

Finally, as a member of the Environmental Justice Leaders, a new initiative spearheaded by the Sustainability Institute, Briseño discusses pertinent issues related to advancing environmental justice on campus and in the community. Guest speakers give presentations on the relationship between social, economic and environmental issues.

“I want to make an impact on environmental issues, and I think that legislation is the best way to do that,” said Briseño. “The environmental field is expanding and growing constantly, and it's not going to stop. My major, Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and my experiences are simultaneously preparing me to be successful for all the career opportunities aligned with my passion and interest around sustainability.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021