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ESF Students Win StoryFest Competition

Top prize is trip to Brazilian Rainforest for storytelling expedition
Posted April 2017

From left: Quentin Wheeler, Frank Sesno, Carrick Palmer (top) / Tomasz Falkowski (bottom), Thomas Lovejoy, Andrew Revkin

Two ESF students were among the winners of Planet Forward's annual storytelling competition winning a trip to the Brazilian rainforest with biodiversity pioneer Tom Lovejoy and journalist Frank Sesno.

Tomasz Falkowski and Carrick Palmer were honored for their entries in StoryFest which encourages students to share their stories about food, water, energy, mobility, built environment and/or biodiversity.

Falkowski, graduate student in environmental and forest biology/ecology, was the winner of the Right Brain category for the story that most creatively tells an environmental story, either through media format or storytelling technique. Falkowski wrote about how ecological agriculture and traditional ecological knowledge are conserving biodiversity.

"I see science as storytelling," he said his entry submission. "For me, science writing is a creative expression of this body of knowledge and allows me to share my passion for and fascination with nature."

"I believe the only way we can restore health to the land is to first restore our relationship to it," he said. "We must become a part of nature rather than apart from it."

Planet Forward described his work: "He used masterful descriptive narration and beautiful photography to take readers into the depths of the Lacandon Maya 'forest garden' of Lacanja Chansayab in Chiapas, Mexico. The beautifully told stories also describe the principles behind these ancient models of farming that sustain the ecological biodiversity of the region."

On winning the award, Falkowski said, "It is not just an award for myself, but hopefully for everyone I will be able to teach and influence in the future. Just as this experience is a gift for the work I put into my writing, it is also a responsibility to pass on what I will learn. I believe that this trip will help me develop the inspiration, means, and opportunities to do so."

Palmer, a sophomore environmental studies/ environmental policy and law major, was the Left Brain Award winner with his entry "Bring back bald eagles." The Left Brain Award recognizes the best use of science or data in environmental storytelling. This prize exemplifies explanatory storytelling, telling the story behind an innovation or using data to convey a story.

"I utilized data and facts in my story because to me being able to have something quantitatively concrete makes the story less abstract than something that's more vague," Palmer wrote in his entry materials. "Personally I find numbers can help to conceptualize something further than adjectives could alone and provide more emphasis as well."

The judges also noted Palmer's exemplary use of photography in his entry. "One of the judges congratulated me and said to make sure I bring my camera on the trip." His work was described this way: "His piece shares the disastrous effects of modern industrialization and pollution on bald eagles in upstate New York. He tells the story of the fight to save and protect the species and the data being used to track the population and help it flourish."

Palmer is a student in Dr. Benette Whitmore's Public Communication of Science and Technology. "Each of my 23 students submitted projects and two (Palmer and junior environmental studies major Zack Smith) were finalists." The class does a number of digital writing projects such as videos, podcasts and blogs along with nature writing/field notes, she said.

Palmer is still trying to adjust to the idea of winning. "I really didn't expect to win. … I can't believe it. It doesn't seem real."

The trip is set for June. Lovejoy is a noted environmental scientist known as the "Godfather of Biodiversity." Sesno is the director of the School of Media and public Affairs at the George Washington University and former CNN Washington bureau chief.

"We are absolutely thrilled by the caliber of submissions to our Storyfest contest this year," said Sesno, who is the chief executive and f ounder of Planet Forward. "These top winners delivered exemplary contributions of stories that are moving our planet forward." To compete, students submitted up to three stories focused on food, water, energy, mobility, urban centers, or biodiversity told through any combination of media. Winners were selected for their quality of information and production, creativity in presentation, impact of storytelling, and scalability of the innovation shared.

ESF Students Make their Mark