By Katie Ryu
For junior Shayla Pham, the traditional Catalina Island field trip in seventh grade meant a lot more to her than it did to most middle schoolers. In the waters by the island, Pham’s marine biology class went on an evidently memorable snorkeling excursion as part of their field trip. After seeing the colorful fish and coral reefs, she knew she wanted to protect them.
Years later, her dreams have not shifted. Pham continues to focus on environmental science and plans on majoring in it in college. But until then, she furthers her environmental science studies in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and competes in the school’s winning Envirothon team.
Pham takes IB Biology and IB Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS). She is one of the few students in IB to “double up” in sciences. Pham will have to test in both subjects after taking these two-year courses to earn her IB diploma. She and her classmates are taught IB Biology curriculum regarding topics such as cell biology and genetics, while also studying biomes, population ecology, and more in ESS.
“These two sciences are a lot of work, and that means a lot of studying and not a lot of sleep. But, I know that this is what I want to do and I’m willing to work for that,” Pham said.
However, Pham does not stop there. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Pham and her Envirothon teammates stay after school until 5:30 p.m. The long hours are intended to prepare the team for their competitions and they spend their time delivering presentations and studying the Envirothon disciplines of wildlife, soils, aquatics, and forestry. Pham specializes in aquatics and forestry.
Just last October, Pham and the Envirothon team competed at the 2019 Forestry Challenge in Santa Cruz. Pham’s team earned fourth place after multiple days of field tests and one final presentation on what type of management plan should be used for the redwood forests of Santa Cruz.
“I’ve never done this kind of field work before or anything like it. I got to have this hands-on experience, and it was so much fun. I loved being in the forest and being totally immersed in nature,” Pham said.
Pham hopes to attend nationals this summer in Lincoln, Nebraska for the National Conservation Foundation Envirothon competition and plans on actively competing as a member of the Envirothon team for the rest of her high school career.
“I’m especially interested in conservation efforts and I think it’s our responsibility, especially as Gen Z, to take care of our planet. Conservation today is more important than ever. I just want to play my part in restoring the environment,” Pham said.