Athens, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School
Brannon Kelly, a passionate high school student, has been deeply immersed in the world of conservation from a young age, inspired by his father's work at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Engaging in various conservation projects and jobs, Brannon has developed a profound understanding of Illinois' natural resources. Since Middle School, he has been actively involved with an annual Mourning Dove banding program, where he learned the importance of monitoring wildlife numbers for healthy populations. Then throughout high school, Brannon dedicated himself to maintaining his school’s pollinator garden and he also contributed significantly to an ongoing study that was responsible for monitoring the population status of the threatened Ornate Box Turtle at a local State Park. Additionally, he’s assisted with prescribed burning on private properties to help support prairie restoration and native plant growth. Brannon plans to take his unwavering passion for wildlife and habitat conservation with him this fall where he will attend the Colorado School of Mines.
Aurora, Waubonsie Valley High School
Hannah Nabicht has demonstrated a strong commitment to environmental advocacy by taking proactive steps to make a difference for the planet. Through active involvement in the Environmental Society club, Hannah initiated campaigns, created petitions, and utilized social media to encourage fellow students to adopt eco-friendly behaviors. These efforts extended to practical actions, such as establishing the Green and Gold school garden with native plants and addressing the school district's recycling shortcomings. Hannah's innovative idea of a Sharing Table in her schools lunchroom helped reduce waste and allowed excess food to be donated to homeless shelter. Her passion for environmental science led to her participation in the Prairie Restoration project, where she helped plant over 3,500 native plants. Looking forward, Hannah aspires to combine her love for Environmental Science and Business, aiming to create an environmentally conscious clothing and jewelry business. She’ll begin this new journey by attending the University of Iowa this coming fall.
Charleston, Charleston High School
Lily Porter is remarkable when it comes to spearheading community conservation efforts and environmental education. As an aspiring conservationist, Lily has undertaken various impactful projects, such as establishing a native wildflower garden through the Urban Butterfly Initiative and promoting renewable energy through her artistic contributions. Additionally, she has actively engaged the younger generation as a Junior Counselor Intern at Douglas Hart Nature Center, fostering a love for the environment and inspiring future conservationists. Embracing every opportunity, Lily also volunteers at Aikman Wildlife Adventure, where she works alongside the animal care team, gaining valuable insight into the care and welfare of various species. These are only the things Lily does in her free time, as she is also the co-captain of her school’s Ecology Club and the Vice President of the Science Club. Lily’s dedication to environmental preservation and driving positive change within her community will continue as she plans to attend the University of Illinois this fall.
Joliet, Joliet Catholic Academy
Lydia Pultorak is a passionate and dedicated conservationist. From a young age, she has been actively involved in various hands-on conservation projects, including tagging monarch butterflies and monitoring butterfly species for scientific research. She volunteers for multiple organizations, such as the Forest Preserve District of Will County, where she engages in butterfly monitoring, bird hikes, and invasive species removal. Additionally, Lydia serves as a teen leader in the King Conservation Science Scholars program at Brookfield Zoo, educating visitors about conservation actions and wildlife. She co-founded the Wildlife Club at her high school and as the club president, she helps encourage appreciation for nature and wildlife among her peers, leading presentations, field trips, and service projects. Through her contributions to citizen science projects like eBird, she provides valuable data to aid avian researchers in implementing effective conservation methods. Lydia’s passion, dedication, and multi-faceted approach will serve her wonders this fall where she will attend Purdue University.
Charleston, Charleston High School
Makenzie Pamperin has been a driving force behind the Urban Butterfly Initiative, a pollinator habitat restoration project within her community. Collaborating with the City of Charleston and Dr. Paul Switzer from Eastern Illinois University, Makenzie dedicated four years to creating ten "butterfly hotspots" throughout the community. Through hard work and dedication, she helped plant native plants, document various butterfly species, and save monarch butterflies by harvesting and planting milkweed seeds. Additionally, Makenzie has spent time as a citizen scientist where she learned how to identify and photograph various butterfly species that are found in Illinois. She’s also volunteered with Eastern Illinois University students for Panther Service Days to expose community members to nature and maintain the cleanliness of natural spaces. Makenzie's passion for nature and dedication to pollinator habitat restoration have not only enriched her own life but have also inspired more people in her community to interact with nature and actively participate in conservation efforts. Makenzie will continue her hard work, commitment, and deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life when she attends the University of Illinois this fall.