Alumni Testimonials

Around 200 college-aged students have graduated from our Fellowship Program. Hear what alumni had to say in their own words.

“The multidisciplinary approach was very helpful because I haven’t had the chance to experience conservation through the perspectives of other fields of study. I’ve always been very interested in urban planning and urban studies. I have a much more significant interest now in rural land use.”

Aaryan Awasthi, Macalester College, 2024

“It’s quite immersive and experiential, and that was really helpful to me to be able to emphasize all the things we’d learned and talked about. I think it’s opened up more avenues for me and made me consider more pathways I might end up taking.”

Annie Castillo, Oberlin College, 2023

“My favorite part was exploring a holistic approach to land conservation. It reinforced a philosophy I’ve taken away for conservation – that it’s about the people. I think it’s really helped me solidify the future directions I want to take both academically and professionally.”

Cathryn McVicker, George Mason University, 2022

“For a nonprofit to build a fellowship and train students on everything that they do, and then give them a practicum opportunity, I’ve never seen anyone else do that in my time in the U.S. or globally. That’s such a unique opportunity and I hope that the funders realize they’re contributing to something great.”

Darryl Acker-Carter, University of Maryland-Baltimore, 2023

“What I really liked about it was meeting people who are passionate about the same kinds of things that I am. It’s showed me how many options there are within conservation-related fields, and that’s given me confidence that there are a lot of doors open to me.”

Duncan Griffiths, William & Mary, 2024

“The biggest effect it had was that it helped me bridge the gap between theory and practice. I have a much more realistic and grounded understanding of how land conservation works. And that’s something that I was really not able to get in school.”

Georgia Kretz, Macalester College, 2025

“Going through this gave me confidence that I could apply to jobs in this field because I have something in my toolbox now. And it was really cool seeing not only what PEC does but what other partner organizations do. Everyone was really down to earth and had a lot of genuine passion for their jobs.”

Jimena Espinoza Rogovich, George Mason University, 2023

“This experience reignited my motivation to continue developing my skills and my knowledge on planning and land use. Being out in the field made me realize I need to level up my education so I can get a job that I really want, something like PEC.”

Julia Tracy, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2023

“Coming from an environmental anthropology background, I didn’t have a lot of experience with on-the-ground environmental work. And I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go in the environmental sphere. It was really helpful to talk to so many people and hear about their backgrounds to find out what I was really interested in.”

Margaret Forsyth, Barnard College, 2023

“We got to explore the many different departments, fields and roles within the organization. Now I have a clear vision of what I might be interested in in terms of my future career.”

Mohammad Ahmadi, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2024

“The program is valuable because it connected me to so many people and experiences in conservation that I would have never encountered otherwise. I have a much better sense of what conservation looks like on a local level and feel more well-equipped to try to find a place in that field.”

Rebecca Popp, University of Virginia, 2024

“It’s a really good way to pinpoint what interests you, because you’re working on so many different kinds of projects and working with so many different kinds of people. You see every single stage of a nonprofit like PEC.”

Susannah Gerhardt, Bucknell University, 2025

“The past seven weeks have been an awesome experience learning and applying the concepts of community conservation exemplified by PEC. I want to thank everyone who made this fellowship possible. I am excited to start my career having been a fellow and having such an enriching time with the other fellows and everyone at PEC!” -Alberto Della Torre, University of Michigan, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“First and foremost, thank you to all the PEC staff for these past seven weeks. It helped me confirm I am absolutely pursuing a career in the right path. I learned so much from everyone, including how to take great pictures of grasshoppers now! I just wish I had found this opportunity a few years earlier so that it could have been in person!” -Thomas Jackson, George Mason University, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“I am beyond thrilled that I have had the opportunity to participate in this fellowship! I truly have not felt this excited about learning since middle school, and I am grateful that I got to reawaken that passion through engaging with PEC’s wonderful staff and partners and working alongside this amazing group of peers. This experience has opened my eyes to so many possibilities in the world of conservation and inspired me in countless ways. I will carry this energy with me for a long time!” -Sam Grossman, Smith College, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“The past two months have been a wonderful experience as a fellow. I’ve learned so much from hearing staff members sharing their experiences and know-how with us, and became fascinated by the role and work of the PEC as an organization. I loved the chance to hear so many perspectives, to see the multiplicity of knowledge, skill, and passions that combine to make this thing work, and have equally been humbled by the other fellows that I’ve had the pleasure of being in a class with.” -Mica Chau, Brown University, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“Being a PEC fellow has been such an amazing experience! I feel like every week I learned something new and have learned about fields of environmentalism I’ve never been exposed to before. In a digital landscape, the PEC staff and speakers have made this a great experience that definitely exceeded my expectations. Thank y’all so much for the care, support, and knowledge you’ve shared—the fun and growth I’ve had through the fellowship is invaluable!” -Janis Arrojado, UNC-Chapel Hill, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“Thank you to everyone—staff, fellows, guest speakers—for this amazing learning experience. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to learn more about this region, its history, beauty, complexity, issues, and ongoing fights. So many new perspectives and new pieces of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. I have really loved connecting with you all. Honestly, it has given me such hope to learn more about the amazing, diverse, ongoing work you are all doing, and to know all these people out there taking part in fights to make the world a better place for all.” -Simon Willig, Middleburg College, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“I have never been so thankful to see an Instagram ad because that is how I came to apply and be a PEC Fellow. I loved every second of these seven weeks […] I didn’t think I could have ever learned this much in such a short amount of time, and it was amazing to learn more about Virginia, even though I have never been to the East Coast. I would love to come and visit, and I am still in awe of the beauty of the Piedmont that you all helped me discover. I really hope we can all stay connected, I don’t think I have ever seen a better community when it comes to not only work but also diverse passions and being great at starting and continuing actions that further conservation. I have really loved all this and I have no words to express how much gratitude I have for PEC, this fellowship, and the amazing people and friends I met.” -Julia Rankin, Oregon State University, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“This fellowship really flew by and I mean that in the best way possible. I’m so grateful to have spent the last seven weeks learning with all of the PEC staff and fellows. It was refreshing to learn about some familiar topics and some new ones alongside a group of people with such diverse backgrounds and interests. I appreciate all the time and energy PEC staff dedicated to each and every session. I now have a notebook packed with information and a head packed with ideas, and everything I’ve learned in this program will be carried with me for a long time to come. Thank you for creating this program and inviting me to be a part of it.” -Lauren Taylor, Penn State University, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“Becoming a PEC fellow has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. To be around great minds and hearts, from both fellows and instructors, has motivated me to change my corner of the world more than ever, and for the first time of my life, I feel like I’m finding the tools to get started. Thank you to everyone at PEC for inciting fascination and drive into my community, and giving me the tools to build that community higher.” -Liam Dolan, George Mason University, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“This opportunity has given me so much, a community, knowledge, experience, and a passion. I don’t know how to say thank you. The warmth and wisdom of everyone involved has been stunning. […] All my fellows: thank you most of all for being some of the most fun, whip-smart, charming and sweet group of people I could have ever been put into a Google Hangouts with. Thanks for your inspiring stories and excellent questions and my favorite chat groups I’ve ever been in.” -Annie Price, Pomona College, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

2023 reunion.

“I learned so much in such a short seven weeks and am so grateful for all of the time, knowledge, thought, and care you all put into making this experience impactful. I am inspired by everything that the PEC works to accomplish, and I know that this inspiration will serve me well in my last year of college as well as my future career path. Thank you again, and I look forward to following what else PEC does in the coming years!” -Carly Harris, Bates College, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“First and foremost, thank you to all the PEC staff for these past 7 weeks. It helped me confirm I am absolutely pursuing a career in the right path. I learned so much from everyone, including how to take great pictures of grasshoppers now! I just wish I had found this opportunity a few years earlier so that it could have been in person!” -Thomas Jackson, George Mason University, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“I can’t tell you what a truly enriching experience this fellowship has been for me. The topics explored over these last several weeks have been both challenging and engaging, and every presentation, reading, and assignment added something valuable to the mix. I’ve learned so much more about topics I’m interested in, seen different perspectives on already familiar issues, and discovered new and exciting things I’d never even thought of before! These are examples and lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my journey, as I navigate the complexities of conservation, community engagement, environmental law and policy, and more.” -Anélyse Regelbrugge, Lewis and Clark College, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“I have learned more about the Piedmont region in these 7 weeks than I have from living here for 18 years. I feel very fortunate to have such tremendous people looking after the place I call home. I truly believe that an organization like this is hard to come by, especially one with a staff that shows up ready every day to share their passions with the next generation of environmentalists. I felt so encouraged throughout this program to explore my interests and not to worry if after some digging I found myself being pulled in another direction. The environment is such an interdisciplinary field, which is so well reflected in the PEC staff, and something you really emphasized to the fellows. This program wouldn’t be the same without each of you who spoke to us and I’m very thankful to have been a 2021 fellow.” -Lauren Hutchison, Sewanee: the University of the South, PEC Fellowship Class of 2021

“In a community where there are people with years of experience working for goals that are larger than any one person or group, I now understand how crucial it is that we ask each other questions and truly listen to the answers we’re given.” –David Malcolm, University of Florida, PEC Fellowship Class of 2020

“I’ve never spent much time on the East Coast, let alone in Virginia. I wouldn’t have ever thought that the policies and the way things work and the land use practices would be so different from the Midwest or from the West Coast. I think the fellowship has really widened my perspective in terms of how I can bring that to other places.” -Ariel Gans, University of California – Berkeley, PEC Fellowship Class of 2019

“The PEC fellowship was an incredible experience that I will not soon forget as I move forward in the Environmental field. I came in with an idea of what areas I wanted to concentrate in, but through this program I have fine-tuned my goals and am now set on a path better suited to these newfound interests. Upon returning to school, I adjusted my major and added a GIS minor because of how much I enjoyed learning it with the PEC. I’ve already recommended for all of my friends to apply next year!” -Preston White, James Madison University, Class of 2016 | currently a GIS Analyst at Measure in Washington D.C.

“The most important thing I’ve learned is that we should not take things for granted. Now, I feel like I know so much more about the land around me and can appreciate it so much more because I know how much hard work goes into keeping it pristine.” -Katie Schmidtmann, High Point University, Class of 2019 | currently a Marketing and Outreach Intern at Growing Gardens in the Greater Denver Area

“My favorite thing about the fellowship is that it really gives you the opportunity to dive into fieldwork. To see how an actual non-profit organization does its work and to really get that hands-on experience that you can’t get at a university. This program does that and it makes it really special and unique.” -Isobel Lingenfelter, University of Utah, Class of 2019 | currently a Recreation Site Planning Associate at Bureau of Land Management in Bountiful, UT

“When I first found out that I got accepted, I really wanted to do my career path in environmental research and working in the lab. But after seven weeks here with the fellowship I realized that I’ve had a deeper passion for environmental education. So I really think my next step is teaching future environmental stewards to protect the environment.” -Celeste Wilson, University of Mary Washington, Class of 2018 | currently an 8th Grade Science Teacher at Spotsylvania County Public Schools in Fredericksburg, VA

2018 testimonials.

“Academia focus only on national issues or federal issues. [T]his really showed me the importance of state and local government like land use planning and zoning and how the fight is mainly at the local level which is something really interesting and that we don’t ever talk about in my classes.” -Chloe Harris, Smith College, Class of 2019 | currently a Paralegal Specialist at U.S. Department of Justice in Alexandria, VA

“The knowledge that PEC has provided me with is boundless. I can say with full and total certainty that if the ultimate goal of this fellowship was to prepare the next generation of environmental conservationists then personally speaking it has succeeded.” -Drake Starling, Catholic University, Class of 2014 |  currently a World Bank Group – ICSID – Legal Assistant in the Washington D.C. Metro Area

“The fellowship exposed me to an array of environmental topics and issues that I wouldn’t have ordinarily encountered. All of the staff showed us different aspects of working for a nonprofit, which was quite useful, and the overall experience altered and refined my intellectual and career interests.” -Samuel Zacher, University of Chicago, Class of 2016 | currently a Budget & Policy Analyst at the Governor Office of State Planning and Budgeting in Colorado

“The PEC fellowship prepared me for a major transition into post-graduate life and specifically into the process of finding a job in the D.C. area. The technical, communications, and field experience I gained in the program helped me enter into interviews with strong anecdotes to display my expertise. It helped me to speak confidently about different perspectives on environmental conservation, energy, and development issues. I was hired as a Research and Publications Intern at the Environmental Law Institute just three weeks after the program ended, mostly thanks to the fellowship and the fact that it showed my employers that I had a keen interest and knowledge of environmental land use issues. I also gained an incredible group of friends throughout the summer and a great resource in the form of the PEC staff who continue to help me in my transition to DC life.” -Lauren Faccinto, Kenyon College, Class of 2014 | currently a Project Manager at The Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council in California

“The PEC showed me where effective environmental conservation intersects with solid community planning. I learned that the environmental movement should be cultivated within the context of our day-to-day lives, and I think the PEC’s many programs, by doing just that, make a huge impact on the region where I live.” -Natalie Sheffield, College of William and Mary, Class of 2016

“The fellowship helped me transition from an academic setting to real, meaningful environmental work. PEC showed me the whys and hows of protecting land and communities and helped me imagine my own future in environmental protection more clearly. The staff repeatedly went above and beyond to make the fellowship a success, and I am so thankful I got the chance to learn from them.” -Chelsea Johnson Lawrence University Class of 2014 | currently a Communications Specialist at the University of Wisconsin Department of Surgery

“I wasn’t familiar with land conservation tools, such as easements or riparian buffers. It was eye-opening to learn about the different methods and policies behind conservation! This time in the beautiful Piedmont has taught me how to protect the places I love.” –Terry Chen, UCLA (Fellowship ’13) | currently a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Harvard University in Massachusetts 

“I’ve known about PEC as a land conservation group, but I didn’t realize there were so many other aspects to it. It was really interesting to learn about water quality, waste management, communications, habitat restoration, land use policies—and how they all tie in with land conservation.” -Caroline Massie, UVA (Fellowship ’13) | currently a Senior Communications Associate at the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare in Washington D.C.

“I was surprised by how interesting I found the section on agriculture—something I didn’t know a lot about. I learned about organic, local, and conventional farming and how they all tie into our food system—and it really interested me.” -Sarah Wheatley, Holyoke College (Fellowship ’13) | currently a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Maine, also a founder of Shire Suds

“I had a tremendous experience and learned a lot. I didn’t understand the connection between law and conservation until I got here, and I learned that law is ingrained in what a group like PEC does.” -Henry Bell, Middlebury College (Fellowship ’13) | founder and currently the lead editor at With the Winds based in Vermont.

fellowship reunion
2015 reunion.

“This program gave me an exhaustive background in environmental issues, and helped me to connect personally with this landscape… I also learned more in these seven weeks than in a typical semester of college—and the learning stuck because it was hands-on.” –Peter Hawes, University of Mary Washington (Fellowship, ’11) | currently pursuing a Masters of Public Policy at the University of Virginia

“It is inspiring to work for an organization that does so much good in the world and is so widely respected.” –Dorsey Clarke, Sewanee University of the South (Fellowship ’10)

“The PEC fellowship was one of the best work experiences I have ever had. It allowed me to get out in the field and learn new things I never had in college.” -Josh Crump, Virginia Commonwealth University (Fellowship ’10) | currently a Planner in Hanover County, Virginia

“By being exposed to so many aspects of PEC’s work, I found that I could make an informed choice as to what excites me, and then pursue it professionally.” –Chris Orvin, Northwestern University (Fellowship ’08)

“One of the activities from my fellowship was shadowing an energy auditor on an energy audit. I very much enjoyed the philosophy of making the best of what we already have and the technical side of testing home energy efficiency. Upon receiving my Master’s degree, I became a certified energy auditor myself.” –Adam Weber (Fellowship ’08) | currently a Sustainability Data Analyst at Eastern Research Group (ERG)

“I consider conservation and preservation volunteer opportunities more strongly since working with PEC. I know these efforts rely heavily on volunteers and have wide-reaching benefits.” –Ben Chrisinger, PhD Candidate at University of Pennsylvania (Fellowship ’08) | currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California

“The fellowship program really opened my eyes to the beauty of the Piedmont and the importance of keeping it beautiful. I grew up in Northern Virginia, but never really embraced conservation until I participated in the Fellowship. Now many of the causes I support, politicians I vote for, and choices I make have a focus in environmental conservation. I live in Leesburg, VA, and continue to support PEC.” –Tommy Burk (Fellowship ’07) | currently a Data Scientist at BigBear Inc. in Virginia