Since its creation in 1970 by John Toll, Stony Brook University’s first president, the 26-acre Ashley Schiff Preserve has served as both a beloved patch of nature on campus and a valuable education tool. Thanks to the efforts of two Environmental Club students, the creativity of students and alumni has been compiled into an ambitious, 135-page book that gives voice to the historic sanctuary.
Curated by Sowad Ocean Karim ’23, president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), and Kellianne Ticcony ’23, Sustainability Operations, Infrastructure, and Livelihood (SOIL) director for USG, Forever Wild is a collection of poems, drawings, art, and other forms of activism that celebrates the importance of nature, the environment, and the preserve.
Karim was inspired by a Zuccaire Gallery presentation by Sharon Pochron, associate professor of practice in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), regarding the history, importance, and significance of the preserve. Moved by the activist history behind it, Karim had the original idea to gather as many students and alumni as possible to contribute their art to the compilation.
“In USG we were working towards taking the steps to advocate for the preservation of the preserve,” said Karim, a double major in biology and political science. “While science can help out with creating and justifying the reasons we need to do things, art is a very powerful medium of activism that unites and sways a community to rally and enact change. I wanted to showcase the creativity and beauty that is activism at Stony Brook.”
Karim pitched the idea to Ticcony, and their interests in climate justice and activism aligned very closely. “I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish together.”
David Taylor, assistant professor of sustainability studies in SoMAS, served as a mentor. Karim and Ticcony dedicated Forever Wild to him, among others, in appreciation of their guidance.
Ticcony’s interest in the preserve stems from her experience adjusting to campus life here after growing up in the more rural Hudson Valley in upstate New York.
“I had a very hard time adjusting to the lack of free public green space,” she said. “Growing up, nature was always my escape and not having as much access to it was difficult. When I found out about the Ashley Schiff Preserve, it became my escape. When I was stressed out or just needed to clear my head I’d go take a walk in the preserve and it helped.”
The preserve became an even more important refuge when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“During the pandemic, staring at a screen all the time was hard,” said Ticcony, who has been inspired by the environment since she was young. “Volunteering as a naturalist in the preserve really helped me to stay engaged with the campus community and appreciate all the preserve had to offer.”
Karim and Ticcony, both seniors, are preparing for very different career paths, though environmental activism remains part of each.
Ticcony, a marine sciences and sustainability studies major, plans to get her open water scuba instructor certification so she can share her passion with others and inspire them to protect the environment. After a gap year, she intends to get a master’s degree in marine science. “I hope to pursue a career in marine science research focused on the impacts of pollution and the climate crisis on marine megafauna,” she said. “I also want to continue to advocate for environmental justice and climate solutions.”
Karim is working towards becoming a primary care physician in pediatrics and advocating or writing legislation that directly improves the quality and accessibility of healthcare in the U.S., especially for those in historically marginalized communities. “Understanding the issues from a sociopolitical economic perspective, as well as an environmental health and psychological health perspective is what I yearn for,” he said.
The Ashley Schiff Preserve was named in honor of Ashley Schiff, a popular political science professor and environmental activist at Stony Brook who died unexpectedly in 1969 at the age of 37. Schiff was known for his dedication to teaching and was voted among the five best-liked professors on campus the year before his passing. Ticcony hopes her and Karim’s efforts help carry Schiff’s environmental hopes forward.
“I want students to always have access to the preserve,” she said. “I’m hoping Forever Wildcan show how valuable these spaces are for students so that the preserve can gain legal protection.”
“I think our compilation has accomplished its main goal of bringing more awareness of the preserve to the Stony Brook community and unite our efforts to work towards the legal protection of the preserve,” said Karim. “We’re now finalizing our other goal, which was to establish the book for sale so it can become an additional source of revenue for the Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve so that they can continue to do the great work of conservation and sustainability within Stony Brook University and beyond.”
In recognition of her work, Ticcony was awarded the Jeffrey Eng Memorial Scholarship in Environmental Studies at Stony Brook’s Earthstock celebration in April. Both Ticcony and Karim received Friends of the Ashley Schiff Preserve scholarships.
“What a joy it was to work with Kellianne and Ocean on this student collection of writing and artwork dedicated to the preservation of the Ashley Schiff Woods,” said Taylor. “They are leaders in the best sense of that word — they enable others to excel and feel connected to a community. Their good work will impact not only current students but students for years to come. Forever Wild shows just how deeply our students care about their campus.”
— Robert Emproto