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ESF December Graduates Join Alumni Ranks

Student speaker: 'The time to act is now – no, yesterday'

ESF celebrated the accomplishments of its newest graduates during commencement ceremonies Friday at Hendricks Chapel.

The College conferred 156 degrees, including 48 master's degrees and 14 Doctor of Philosophy degrees, during the ceremony that also honored three alumni with Graduate of Distinction awards, and included the presentation of the President's Award.

"Your success today is not yet final. It is a beginning, a commencement," ESF President Quentin Wheeler told the graduates. "What's next is up to you. You are now fully in control of how you chose to use your powers to improve the world.

"Stay optimistic and determined to make a difference wherever you chose," he said. He then asked the graduates to stand and recognize the family and friends who supported them. "This day belongs to them, too," Wheeler said.

The event marked the first time there was a student speaker at December graduation. Gillian M. Giem, a sustainable energy management major, gave the student address. "Our Stumpie family is filled with brilliant minds. We were attracted to ESF because of a shared vision, a quest," she said.

Giem implored her fellow graduates to be involved in their world. "The time to act is now - no, yesterday. The only time we have to work with is now, and I urge you to build a brighter future."

Wheeler presented the President's Medal to David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes, a photographic team for National Geographic. Awarded at the discretion of the ESF president, the President's Medal recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to science, humanity and the natural world.

Doubilet's and Hayes' photography serves as a universal language creating a visual voice for a fragile and finite world.

Upon accepting the award, Hayes said, "ESF is ground zero for environmental science." She continued saying environmental science is at a "mission critical point. There is a war on science right now. Our goal is to go out and tell the story of science … My goal is to get your work out there so the world can understand it."

Said Doubilet, "Images have been instrumental in the protection of numerous species … That's the power of pictures - to reach across all the world."

Hayes added that communicating science is extremely important. "How we pass information on and how we get science translated to everyday speak" is vital. "You can be the foremost anything, but if you can't communicate your work, it gets lost."

She encouraged graduates to "stalk" her and Doubliet. "We're here to tell your stories. Go forward. Do great things and let us know how it's going."

Three alumni were also honored during commencement. Graduate of Distinction Awards were bestowed upon Dr. Richard A. Birdsey '76, Robyn A. Niver '97 and Theresa L. Evans '09, who received the Incipiens Quercu Award given to a recent ESF graduate who exemplifies the College's commitment to environmental stewardship.

Evans is an emerging professional with the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA). Her main role as a recycling specialist is aimed at helping more than 100 local schools and institutions of higher education achieve outstanding levels of recycling and waste reduction. She established a groundbreaking food scrap recovery effort that is significantly reducing school waste and returning valuable nutrients to local soils through composting. More than 7,000 students in 16 area schools are separating thousands of pounds of food scraps for composting on a weekly basis.

Evans also contributes program support to the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling, and is a board member of Greening USA, a nonprofit organization based in Syracuse that advocates for sustainable communities. The award's name is a nod to the nickname of ESF's athletic teams, the Mighty Oaks, and a tree that is a campus landmark, the Robin Hood Oak.

Niver, the recipient of the Graduate of Distinction - Notable Achievement Award, is a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and serves as a senior endangered species biologist. She oversees all aspects of the Endangered Species Act's implementation in New York state.

Niver uses creative, science-based techniques to establish partnerships that work on large-scale projects, assessing potential impacts on listed or proposed species. Her species recovery work has included the piping plover, the Chittenango ovate amber snail, the Karner blue butterfly, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat. Niver also serves on a number of regional and national teams studying innovative approaches to conservation, developing state-of-the-art survey methodologies and educating her federal agency counterparts, private businesses and the public on the need to achieve cooperative conservation for these imperiled species.

Birdsey was honored with the Graduate of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award. Birdsey, a distinguished scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, retired in July 2016 after an illustrious four-decade career. He received numerous honors from the U.S. government. Most notably, in 2007 he received a share of a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for his contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Birdsey's research team developed the concept of using forests to help mitigate climate change through sustainable management and pioneered the methodology for monitoring and reporting changes in forest carbon based on national forest inventories, an approach now globally recognized as the best way for nations to report their forest greenhouse gas emissions.

Birdsey noted he has received many honors during his career, but the Graduate of Distinction Award was special. "ESF shaped me for a very productive career."

He offered the graduates three pieces of advice: First, finish what you start. "It's important to close the circle." Second, find mentors and role models. And finally, "All you need is a little luck - so be lucky. You need to recognize it when it's there. Luck may offer you a different path than you thought you would take."