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ESF Students Advance in National Environmental Storytelling Competition

Sustainable fashion, neighborhood conservation, litter, and green initiatives in athletics are topics that earned four students from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) the title of Planet Forward Storyfest finalist.

Reagan Johnson, Abbey Leibert, Maggie Lidell, and Owen Volk are among the 32 students vying for a winning spot in the annual competition. The awards recognize the voices of students seeking to understand how to best care for the earth. Winners will travel with Planet Forward to Iceland or the Galapagos for an opportunity to see and report on the environmental solutions, preventative measures, and innovations already being developed in the country.

“We commend our students for combining their environmental expertise and creativity to help amplify the stories of sustainability and bring light to the challenges and solutions around climate change. There has never been a more critical time to put the spotlight on environmental conservation. Congratulations to our finalists and good luck in the final round,” said ESF President Joanie Mahoney.

Though most ESF students submitting to Planet Forward are mentored by Tyler Dorholt and Jason Kohlbrenner in ESF’s Digital Storytelling Studio, and Patrice Kohl, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, the contest is open to any students. This year’s ESF finalists are:

Reagan Johnson, Best Multimedia Story (Non-Media Student)

Johnson, a senior, is a Sustainable Energy Management major with a minor in Environmental Policy and Communication. She is interested in the transition to renewable energy and approaches to combining solar energy production with agricultural or ecological benefits. Her story considers how we can change the stigma around lawn aesthetics and reintroduce biodiversity into neighborhoods.

View her story here: Conservation Starts in Your Neighborhood

Abbey Leibert | Best Written Story

Leibert, who will graduate in 2026, is an Environmental Studies major with a minor in Environmental Writing and Rhetoric. Her human-interest story explores the challenge one community is facing with litter.

Read her story here: Talking Trash: The Lehigh Valley's Litter Problem

Maggie Liddell | Best Multimedia Story (Non-Media Student)

Liddell, a senior, is majoring in Environmental Studies and is interested in investigating dynamic solutions to environmental issues, from things one can do on an individual scale, to systemic changes that must be put in place worldwide.

View her story here: Denim Redone: Making sustainable fashion choices at home

Owen Volk | Best Multimedia Story (Non-Media Student)

Volk is an Environmental Studies major with a focus on policy and communications who is interested in the environmental and justice impacts of infrastructure across the country, the implementation and use of solar energy, and the connection of the environment and Indigenous communities and the threats we have made to those relationships.

View his story here: Crunch Time: How sustainability is taking over the world of sports

The 2024 Planet Forward Storyfest competition received 154 entries from 60 schools from around the world. A cohort of ESF faculty, staff, and students will travel to the Planet Forward Summit at George Washington University in Washington, DC on April 18 where they will engage in two days full of workshops and presentations along with the announcement of the 2024 Storyfest winners.

ESF is one of a handful of Pillar School affiliates within the Planet Forward consortium and has helped lead the Planet Forward initiative for several years. The partnership has provided guest lectures, internships, mentoring, and experiential learning trips for ESF students. Dozens of students from every ESF academic program have participated in Storyfest and several have been Planet Forward Correspondents. Two ESF students will have an opportunity to attend the Planet Forward week-long summer seminar in Washington, D.C. this year.

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is dedicated to the study of the environment, developing renewable technologies, and building a sustainable and resilient future through design, policy, and management of the environment and natural resources. Members of the College community share a passion for protecting the health of the planet and a deep commitment to the rigorous application of science to improve the way humans interact with the world. The College offers academic programs ranging from the associate of applied science to the Doctor of Philosophy. ESF students live, study and do research on the main campus in Syracuse, N.Y., and on 25,000 acres of field stations in a variety of ecosystems across the state.