King Conservation Science Scholars Program participant and Evanston native, Kayla Fowler, was among five recipients of scholarships provided by the Women’s Board of the Chicago Zoological Society given to students passionate about conservation efforts.
As a 19-year-old sophomore at Michigan State University majoring in zoology with minors in both Spanish and documentary production, Fowler will use the $5,000 scholarship for her education.
Fowler, a 2021 graduate of Loyola Academy, has always held a special place in her heart for the Brookfield Zoo.
“I had gone to Brookfield Zoo ever since, basically I could walk. It was my favorite, go-to place,” she said. “It kind of felt like a second home.”
During her visits, Fowler would interact with people in green shirts who would present animals and teach zoogoers about them. She even told her mother how she wanted to be in a green shirt one day.
Those in the green shirts are high school students involved in the King Scholars Program, which is designed to help foster leadership growth and conservation interests of Chicago’s high school students. The program began over 10 years ago, according to program manager Chris Conner, and boasts approximately 500 graduates.
The program accepts students 14 to 18 years old with about 100 joining per session. Two sessions are held each year — one in summer and one in winter. Each student is required to complete a one-year commitment with a minimum of 30 hours of coursework. Conner said many go far beyond the required hours.
Courses vary as scholars get to pick classes that align with their interests but classes focused on public engagement and cultural inclusion are required.
Students wishing to join the program don’t have to focus on conservation. Conner highlighted the leadership and networking opportunities the program provides.
“Alumni network will be a one-stop shop for whatever you want to do,” said Conner. “Hopefully we have someone around the country that can connect you directly to that or, my idea is that they will be within three or four degrees of separation, you can connect where you need to be.”
The application process is competitive and Conner expects it only to become more so as sessions continue. Applicants don’t have to be interested in animals or conservation but they must be of at least 14 years of age and be committed for a full year.
In previous years, more scholars were conservation minded but things have slowly shifted to include farther reaching interests. Conner hopes in the future for a 70/30 split with the majority of scholars moving into other areas beyond conservation.
He says there is something for everyone in the program and encourages those looking for encouragement, leadership and social opportunities to apply.
“It doesn’t matter so much where you want to take it. You get out of the program what you put into it,” said Fowler. “If you put a lot into it, they open up so many doors for you whether you want to go into conservation or not.”
Beyond her coursework, Fowler is in the process of publishing a children’s book about ocean conservation with a fellow King Scholar handling the illustration.
“The connections you make here are not just stagnant,” Fowler said. “They’re not something that drops off once the program is over.”
While she is still unsure of what the future holds, Fowler hopes to work in the conservation field and to one day use her documentary production minor to create wildlife films and educate the public about conservation efforts.
“No matter where you are in the world, you have an impact on conservation,” said Fowler.