For Chanda Cooper, conservation education analyst with the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (RSWCD), a career path in the environmental field proved to be a natural fit.
Cooper was recently recognized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for being among the first class of Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship recipients. On its website, the NOAA is spotlighting 10 members from that first group of scholars as it commemorates 15 years of the scholarship.
“I’ve known since childhood that I was destined for a career in natural resources and conservation education,” Cooper said. “Participating in the Hollings Scholar program as a University of South Carolina undergraduate helped me explore those interests more deeply and provided more confirmation and validation that I was on the right path.”
The Hollings Scholarship is awarded to about 120 undergraduates annually. In addition to tuition support, recipients earn a 10-week, full-time paid summer internship that gives hands-on experience in NOAA-related fields including science, research, technology, policy, management and education.
Cooper completed her Hollings internship with the National Weather Service, which deepened her understanding of the planet and her love for learning and teaching about environmental issues. She went on to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in science and environmental resources. Those experiences ultimately led to her work as an environmental educator with the RSWCD.
In her role with the County, Cooper coordinates conservation education programs that promote environmental stewardship for youth, teachers, informal educators, farmers and the general public.
“This work requires an understanding of ecological processes, a passion for communicating that information to others and a collaborative mindset,” Cooper said. “The Hollings Scholar experience helped deepen my skills in all three areas.”
In a feature on the NOAA’s website, Cooper discusses her career path and offers advice to current and future Hollings Scholars. She is thankful for the experience the program provided her and continues to offer students with similar interests 15 years later.
“I am grateful to the Hollings Scholar program for supporting me and others like me in our chosen professions of public service, research, policy and education around environmental issues,” Cooper said.
Named for the former South Carolina governor and U.S. senator, the Hollings scholarship aims to increase undergraduate training in oceanic and atmospheric science and prepare students for careers in public service and environmental education. To learn how to apply, visit the NOAA website: www.noaa.gov.
Photo: Chanda Cooper, conservation education analyst with the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District, helps students plant a tree during a past Arbor Day celebration at Joseph Keels Elementary School.