Student Perspectives

Each year we ask a few students to update us on where they are, what they are doing and how they think about their experience at ESSYI. The reflections below can give you a good idea of what you might expect, the potential impact of the program and the diverse way in which student experience ESSYI. 



Ulia Ahn
Arlington, VA

Currently, I am rising senior and I spent my pre-junior summer at ESSYI. I do synchronized swimming, play the viola, and love to watch Netflix in my spare time.

I had no expectations as I drove onto campus on the first day of the program but little did I know that I would get to spend the next two weeks with some of the most generous, kindest, intellectually stimulating people I have ever encountered. The counselors were energetic and welcoming to me the moment I got out of my car. Everyone was busy organizing for the day but they all still had the time to say hello to me and direct me around the building. The same happened with the other students; it seemed like ESSYI not only gauged and admitted students of academic excellence, but also open-minded friendly ones too. I made friends right away who were from around the country and across the world. Much of this occurred in the first two hours of the program, and we had not even had dinner yet.

The classroom experience at ESSYI was so unique because it was not the same lecture/seminar style each day. During some classes we played games, or watched videos, or held debates, yet everything was crucial to our understanding of environmental issues. After having attended ESSYI, my biggest takeaway was realizing that sustainability is applicable in all disciplinary fields. Also, the opportunities to demonstrate leadership and interest in and outside the classrooms were plentiful.

I am thankful for the ESSYI experience that not only enriched my mind but also my soul as I left with friends from all backgrounds, mentors/counselors from Hobart-William Smith Colleges, and ideas and concepts that have sparked my own way of thinking and lifestyle.

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Anna juarez
indian land, sC

Anna Juarez attended ESSYI in 2018. After high school, she plans to major in Environmental Studies and Biology with a focus on an Environmental Law. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, going to shows, reading, writing, and exploring new hobbies.  

“I can confidently say that participating in ESSYI was one of the best experiences I had in high school. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was nervous about spending two weeks with strangers, let alone living, camping, and learning about environmental studies with them. Mostly I was wondering, “why take 14 days out of your summer vacation to do something educational?” Looking back now, I wish those two weeks would have been longer. I made amazing friends from many different places. I had the opportunity to speak with some really bright and talented faculty and students. And, I was able to get a glimpse of what a great school HWS is. I think anyone could walk into ESSYI knowing nothing about Environmental Studies and walk away with a new fascination and appreciation for the discipline and our world."


Nola Smith attended ESSYI in 2018. She is currently a senior at Simsbury High School and will attend Oberlin College for environmental studies and chemistry. She runs the Earth’s Advocates club at school and loves to dance, play the violin, rock climb, and golf. She also does her best to appreciate the nature around her by always remembering to say good morning to the sun before rushing off to school.  

ESSYI has changed my outlook on life in so many ways. It has given me knowledge that I use daily, that I think about daily, and that connects to literally just about everything. When we are discussing environmental issues and solutions, there comes a point during class that you are just overwhelmed with the realization that what we are talking about is so much bigger than the environment, but rather we are talking about the interconnected complexities of our society and the world at large. It gave me a totally new way of looking at my actions and my place in the world. I feel so at peace in nature and ESSYI has given me to power to fight for our planet. 

I still flip back on my notes from my journal almost daily because it is filled with such valuable information as well as so many wonderful memories. I will never forget the silent hike and how I cried all the way down because I didn’t want to leave such a beautiful place with such beautiful people who loved the earth just like me. My journal has now been converted into my nature journal where I continue to reflect on the world around me because it means too much to let go. I know that it is a journal that will continue to travel around the world with me and once it is filled up, I have another one just like it waiting for me.” 

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Minami attended ESSYI in 2016 and is currently a student at International School of Asia, Karuizawa in Japan. After high school, she plans to study at Waseda University School of International Liberal Studies with an emphasis on languages and environmental studies. In her free time, she often takes a moment to walk outside to feel the connection with nature and practice yoga and meditation. Minami found her interests in creating space where nature and human beings live harmoniously by using the knowledge of environmental architecture during ESSYI.

“ESSYI gave so many 'firsts' to me --- I went to the US, studied environmental studies, experienced having no Japanese people around me, and many other experiences for the first time in my life. The silent hike on the first day of the camp was one of the most memorable experiences for me because it was the moment when I really felt the inseparable connections between us humans and nature; while I was walking, I heard the sound of leaves rustling and birds singing, felt the fresh breeze on my cheeks, and saw a ray of sunlight coming through the trees. The trees, the soil, the sunlight, the animals, the humans... That moment, I realized 'everything' is connected. Interacting with all the teachers and friends with diverse academic pursuits inspired me to study what I had never studied before such as architecture and chemistry, and stimulated my interest in learning at liberal arts colleges. Now I have decided to go to a university in Japan which offers liberal studies and I cannot appreciate my experiences at ESSYI enough because I grew my interests in learning through interdisciplinary studies to be able to suggest a better way to live harmoniously with nature there.”



David attended ESSYI in 2016 and is currently studying Biochemistry in the University of Barcelona. In his spare time David enjoys training running mountain, playing piano, learning languages and taking photographs. He was part of an ecology project in the Pyrenees and wrote a scientific paper about the ecological state of his town's river.

"ESSYI has been a life-changing experience; it would be so hard to explain all its positive aspects in a paragraph. Not only has it taught me a lot about the environment, but it also has made me grow as an individual. I value a lot having learned to analyze a subject from different points of view and notice that the environment is not only science, but also politics or ethics, for instance. In addition, I realized how important is the step of taking action instead of just worrying about something. I want to thank staff for being so inspirational, encouraging, sincere and funny at the same time and express my gratitude for having met such wonderful people."


Julia Snodgrass
Northampton, MA

Julia attended ESSYI in 2015 and is currently a Junior at Northampton High School in Western Massachusetts. In her spare time, Julia enjoys running Cross-Country,  playing Ultimate Frisbee, and captaining the Alpine Ski Racing Team. She also volunteers with environmental advocacy groups such as the Student-Organized Climate Action Network, serves as a delegate on the State Student Advisory Council, and is the president of her school’s Outing Club. Julia has always loved the outdoors, but she truly discovered her passion for Environmental Studies this past summer at ESSYI.

“At ESSYI I gained exposure to the world of disciplines that Environmental Studies encompasses. After experiencing an array of activities, from collecting data in the field, to discussing the economic implications of a carbon tax, I have a newfound sense of perspective and awareness. Through studying the various topics relating to environmental studies, I learned that not everything is black and white, but rather that every course of study, the earth, and even ourselves are interconnected and complex. This program has challenged me to open my mind, view issues through multiple lenses, and appreciate every individual for what they have to offer. I learned that each and every one of us is a powerful tool and that we have the capability to create lasting change. Overall, coming out of this experience, I feel empowered and confident, equipped with skills and knowledge necessary to further pursue my passion for the environment.”

Nafisa tabassum
New york city 

Greetings! My name is Nafisa Tabassum and I am from New York City. Currently, I am a freshman at SUNY-ESF studying Sustainable Energy Management with a minor in Native Peoples & the Environment.
I participated in ESSYI 2015. It was an AMAZING experience with some of the best, most unique group of people I’ve ever encountered. I will truly never again have such an intense and raw connection with a group of people I had never met before.

“ESSYI was like eating a glazed donut to me. It was sweet, sticky, a little chewy, short-lived, and left me wanting more. Unfortunately it’s only two weeks and in the middle of July and then you cry for the rest of your life because you realize you’ll never find a program like this again OR you’ll never see the phenomenal people again because they live in Oklahoma or Florida or Wisconsin or California and then you cry even harder. During my stay at the Hobart & William Smith Colleges, I was encouraged to reach into people’s hearts and souls to get to know them and become unified through our minds and sweat. But what you don’t expect- and by far the best part- is when your peers reach into you and leave a part of themselves that tugs at your heart strings for the rest of your life.”



Marti catalan franquesa
vic, catalonia, spain

Martí attended ESSYI in 2015 and is currently studying architecture at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, in Barcelona. He has been a boy scout for 9 years and is now developing an international volunteering project with his patrol. Martí also carries out scientific research on past climate reconstruction through the study of the growth rings of trees (dendrochronology).

“I would highlight two aspects about ESSYI. First, since most of the students are already concerned about the environment, ESSYI isn’t aimed at just teaching you about specific issues. Its ultimate goal is to provide you with tools, resources, reasons, contacts and motivation so that you can take real action against climate change and other environmental concerns. ESSYI is way more personal than many other programs. Participating students come from a wide range of social, ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds, thus making it easier for each and every student to fit into the group. In addition, staff and faculty are always available, helpful, sympathetic and as enthusiastic as the students. In other words, ESSYI is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – though I’d love to relive the experience – that motivates you to do something incredibly relevant while spending two weeks with fascinating and praiseworthy people who are as excited as you about protecting the environment.”

anna peczak
baskin ridge, nj

Anna attended ESSYI in 2015 and is currently a sophomore at Ridge High school in Basking Ridge New Jersey. In her spare time she enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, and swimming. She has a deep passion for sciences (biology and chemistry in particular) and has always loved the outdoors. She is currently volunteer at the local Environmental Education Center which is located in The Great Swamp. She has also been immersing myself in sciences by participating in her school’s Chemistry league as well as other science competitions such as the Biology and Chemistry Olympiads.

“ESSYI was a new and unique experience for me which I will never forget. It did not end when the camp’ was over, rather it lives on and extends beyond the day you have to say goodbye. ESSYI provides the opportunity for you to meet many new people from different parts of the country and abroad. Most importantly, you are able to bond with each other through shared activities, interests and goals for the future. What distinguishes ESSYI is that it provides excellent education and tools necessary to combat environmental issues.  It is this experience, along with the unbreakable friendships you makes there, that truly lasts a lifetime.”



will palmieri
south salem, ny

Will attended ESSYI in 2015 and is currently a junior at John Jay High School in northern Westchester County, New York. Will’s interests lie within political science and international affairs, as well as environmental policy. In his free time, Will competes on his cross country running as well as track and field teams, and loves to hike in his local state parks and nature preserves. He is a trumpet player in his school jazz band, and participates in Mock Trial and Model United Nations. He is an editor and writer for his school-run blog and newspaper, and is president of his school Sustainability Club. As well, he participates in environmental advocacy groups such as Citizens Campaign for the Environment–Lower Hudson Valley chapter, as well as Westchester Environmental Coalition at WESPAC.

“It’s a daunting task to decide on the most important thing I gained from my ESSYI experience, what with the incredible friendships I’ve made, the informative and thought-provoking discussions I’ve had with professors and teachers, and the priceless hands-on fieldwork and research opportunities made available to us. Throughout my experiences at ESSYI, however, I discovered the importance of unity and collaboration. The power of the individual is undeniably great, and essential for catalyzing environmental change. But today’s complex issues, especially with regard to the environment, are truly multi-faceted and multilayered. Today’s environmental challenges require that individuals of different disciplines and interests are unified under a common passion for the environment and sustainability. And ESSYI helped me realize that we can develop viable solutions to these ever-increasing problems if we harness the unique talents and passions of each individual for the common good of our planet. In other words, ESSYI has ultimately helped me to not only further my passion for environmental studies, but seek collaboration with others who share similar concerns, so that our social and political voice is intensified–which is ultimately what is required to spark real environmental action.”

julia russel
madison, wisconsin

Julia attended ESSYI in 2015, the summer before her senior year of high school at West High School in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys volunteering with animals, participating in social justice clubs, and playing music. She loves hiking, climbing, camping, and pretty much anything outdoors.

“ESSYI was an incredible experience. I learned so much, made amazing friends, acquired new skills, and got so much inspiration for my future. Before going to ESSYI, I knew I wanted to pursue something in the environmental field, but I had no idea how I could do this or what was really out there for careers. Going to classes ranging from Environmental Philosophy to Green Architecture made me realize that there are so many routes I can take within the environmental field. I wrote about many of these experiences in my college essays, and I now feel more secure with regard to my future. I would recommend attending ESSYI if you are thinking about an environmental career or just love learning more about the outdoors and our relationship with the environment!”



kim oswald
geneva, ny

Kim attended ESSYI in 2014 and is currently a Junior at the local Geneva High School in Geneva, New York (not far from the HWS campus). She is an active member of the school’s Envirothon and is routinely involved in the newspaper and band (clarinet section leader). Kim is is also the swimming coach for the Keuka Kokanees and a Youth Elder at her local Church.

“ESSYI was the highlight of my year. It was so much fun because it was a good mixture of work and play – the sessions were all so informative and fun that it didn’t even feel like a classroom. The staff were also really nice. ESSYI really helped me decide that I want to go into the environmental field. Thank you for such an amazing opportunity.”

marti recort
Cornella De Llobregat, Spain

Marti attended ESSYI in 2014 and is currently a Senior at the Institut Francesc Macia High School in Spain. He enjoys exploring laboratory research and routinely attends workshops at Spain’s Institute for Research in Biomedicine. Marti also participates in international exchange programs including the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona and the XLAB in Gottingen Germany.

“I think ESSYI is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the environmental field and meet people who appreciate similar things. It has been a really good experience for me and I have made some really good friends along the way.” 



Eliza Hilfer
Chappaqua, NY

Eliza attended ESSYI in 2014 and is currently a Junior at Horace Greeley High School in New York City.  She volunteers for the School’s science lab and has a strong interest in the environmental field. Eliza has also been involved in college science experience programs including Genesis at Brandeis and Hotchkiss Summer Portals.

“I would recommend ESSYI to my friends and peers. I think it was a great way for me to explore the many environmental fields. I had previously only considered forestry or green architecture as a career path, but this gave me a lot of ideas on the policy side and helped me understand the role I can play in improving the environment as an individual.”

Jordan Chow
Chappaqua, NY

Jordan attended ESSYI in 2013 and is also currently a Senior at Horace Greeley High School in New York City. He is a leader and is very active at Greeley. He is the founder of a club called ‘Trail Mix.’ Trail Mix is a group of rugged individuals whose focus is on helping local parks maintain their trail systems. He is actively involved in the Student Conservation Association and has also also started a campaign to minimize the use of disposable plastic bottles on his campus. He enjoys group dynamics and intends to continue perusing the fields of environmental science and policy.

“I would recommend ESSYI because it has been such a fun learning experience for me that I want to share it with others…they (staff) were are super fun to be around, and always had the answers to my questions… (ESSYI) has helped change my viewpoint and has given me new knowledge to implement in my daily life. ESSYI will change your view on the world and the environment…it will make you more aware of your impact, and jump start a path to advocacy for sustainability.”



Ariana Nicholson
durham, nc

Ariana attended ESSYI in 2013 and is currently a Senior at the Carolina Friends School in North Carolina. She is an active Girl Scout and participates in many school-related environmental awareness programs. Ariana was recently part of a planning team and a key speaker for an event called ‘March for Our Planet’ a climate action march in Raleigh. She also had a role in developing a ‘Consenesus on Climate Change Declaration’ for her school that was eventually presented to law makers in Washington D.C.

“I aspire to become an environmental educator in some aspect, and attending ESSYI has allowed me to see a wider view of teaching styles, as well as environmental topics. I definitely did learn about the environment at ESSYI. And being with many international students was an experience within itself. In general, it has allowed me to have more perspective on college, education, the environment, and the world. I am glad I went.”

rushy panchal
clifton, nj

Rushy is a Senior at Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey. He is an active member of a robotics club that took 2nd place in a state-wide competition involving virtual robotics. He is a member of the national ‘Junior Honor Society’ and enjoys spending time outside to balance his laboratory pursuits.

“It was a very unique and changing experience, and I learned a lot that I would not have been able to elsewhere. I made a lot of new friends who like the same things I did. I also learned how crucial our environmental predicament is. It is a lot of hard work and I had to push myself (both mentally and physically), but in the end it was worth it.” 


joe zientek
farmingdale, nj

Joe attended ESSYI in 2011 and is currently a Senior at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He is currently contemplating majors in Marine Biology, Ecology or Wildlife Management.

“There were honestly no moments or aspects of the program that I didn’t enjoy. I loved the trip to the Adirondacks. The hike up Goodnow Mountain was great, but the view from the top of the mountain is something I will never forget. The counselors were AMAZING. They were really friendly and easy to work with. They knew what they were talking about and were willing to talk/teach you about anything they can…”

“…there was not a single student that I did not get along with. Everyone was happy and had a great sense of humor. Funny enough, the students that I keep in touch with the most are the ones that live the farthest away. I really enjoy talking to all the friends I made from different countries. It’s interesting to hear about the projects that kids my own age are doing around the globe.”

blythe gurche
trumansburg, ny

Blythe attended ESSYI in 2012.

“The group of people I was with was fantastic and I am still in touch with almost all of them! It was really wonderful to be with such a fun, motivated group. All I can say is that this was an unbelievable program and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in environmental studies. I came out of the program loving the field of environmental studies so much more and having a much better perspective on the problems faced in this field and how to solve them…”

“…I absolutely loved the environmental economics class; it introduced me to a way of solving environmental problems that I hadn’t thought about before. I also really enjoyed the trip to the Adirondacks; talking to the panel of locals about environmental problems was very informative and interesting. Everyone at the program was amazing and so passionate about the environment…”

“…ESSYI made me realize that so many other fields I was interested in like economics, ethics and microbiology tied right into environmental science. I plan on majoring in Environmental Studies/ Science and Microbiology.”

caly mccarthy
port murray, nj

Caly attended ESSYI in 2011.  She is majoring in Environmental Studies in college.

“ESSYI exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives on the environment. Certainly, we sampled and analyzed water, but we also talked about economic measures to reduce CO2 emissions, we creatively expressed our concerns for the Earth through dance, and we discussed the environmental implications of our current educational system. I enjoyed many parts of ESSYI, but was especially appreciative of the professors’ enthusiasm. Everyone was so knowledgeable and approachable. They really peaked my interest and exposed me to new areas of environmental thought. Many a time I have harkened back to our trip to the landfill and the realization that everything we throw “away” ends up in a crevice of the Earth’s skin…”

“…I plan to major in environmental studies and hope to work in some capacity of sustainable agriculture. Whether this will materialize into farming the land myself or advocating for the protection of seeds against genetic engineering, I’m not yet sure.”

devon george
honesdale, pa

Devon attended ESSYI in 2010 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.

“I loved ESSYI! It gave me a great overview of Environmental Studies as a major and led me to make the final decision to major in Environmental Studies. I enjoyed the camping trip the most by far. I loved spending time in the Adirondacks and I had so much fun hanging out with the other kids and the counselors!..”

“…I recently got an email from the Wild Center in Tupper Lake and I am interviewing with them for a summer internship! ESSYI has also been a great plus to have on my resume! I am a freshman at University of New Hampshire, majoring in Environmental Conservation Studies, with a specialization in Entomology and minor in Environmental Engineering.”

pol gurri
barcelona, spain

Pol is currently attending college in Barcelona at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and is majoring in Engineering Physics. Pol attended ESSYI is 2012.

“The trip to the Adirondacks was unforgettable, but above all, the best thing isn’t just what you learn or what you do, the best part of ESSYI is the people. All the students are people that share the same interests as you; people that care as much about the environment as you do, people that make ESSYI more than a science program, people that make ESSYI an amazing experience…”

“…I never thought that ESSYI could change my daily way of living but it did. I am more than thankful for everything that I learned, the relationships that I formed, and the experiences that ESSYI gave me!”