As a child growing up in the hamlet of Bay Shore, Long Island, which adjoins the Great South Bay, Melissa Scheiber ’15 didn’t have to travel far to enjoy the natural world. Indeed, the environmental humanities major recalled many happy days going for nature walks on the shore and on school trips for cleanups.
The young nature lover also enjoyed visits to local parks to see bat houses and their fascinating occupants.
“I’ve always loved wildlife, and that started with my parents and grandparents taking me places to see animals. It’s so important to get kids interested at a young age,” Scheiber said.
But it was family vacations to Florida that really stoked her interest in the environment.
“We used to go to zoos, aquariums and rescue sites, and hang out at the shore and watch the manatees,” she said.
Another influence for the young science lover was former Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore.
“It was the movie An Inconvenient Truth that really solidified the path I wanted to take with my life,” she said.
In 2016, Scheiber worked as the conservation coordinator for the Strategy and Planning Department at the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) in Silver Spring, Maryland. Earlier this year, she was promoted to events manager for the organization.
In that role, Scheiber helps develop and implement programs for WHC webinars, manages the technical aspects of online learning events and assists in implementing all details of the WHC’s annual Conservation Conference in Baltimore.
So how does a young woman make the leap from loving manatees to studying the humanities? Scheiber will tell you that it comes down to picking the right major — one that bridged her love of wildlife and communicated that passion to a larger audience.
“That is why the environmental humanities major is so important. Humanities folks shine when it comes to connecting with everyone in a way that speaks to their needs and their hearts, whether it’s with corporations or with kids and community volunteers,” Scheiber said. “When we are able to bring all these different types of people together, change happens.”
At Stony Brook, Scheiber explored many different topics in her major — among them, education, politics, art and data compilation.
“My major is all about connecting people to environmental causes, and my studies gave me an understanding of how to specifically do that,” she said.
David Taylor, who is one of Scheiber’s mentors, said his former student “always focused on the possibilities for humanities in the service of sustainability.”
“She saw how her background in environmental humanities could distinguish her in the unique skills she could bring to a job,” said Taylor, an assistant professor in the Sustainable Studies Program and director of the environmental humanities major in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
Understanding how people form an emotional connection to the environment and the science behind environmental issues has helped Scheiber come up with topics and present them to people who don’t necessarily have a science background. She said this helps them to connect with issues and possibly inspire action.
During the past four years, Scheiber has traveled to Louisiana to teach students and teachers about the insects that inhabit their woodlands. She also has led beach cleanups in New Jersey, built bug “hotels” at several Fortune 500 companies and educated children about bats at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
Obviously, events such as these cannot take place when people are quarantining all over the world.
“When the stay-at-home orders began, we quickly put together a kid-friendly webinar series for everyone stuck at home so they could learn about wildlife and still have fun doing activities,” she said.
Virtual meetings soon replaced in-person engagement, and the WHC team produced documents that outlined how to continue environmental projects while being unable to gather.
One thing was certain: Even a global pandemic could not prevent Scheiber from connecting people with crucial environmental issues.
“We saw a need and rose to the occasion,” she said.
— Glenn Jochum