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SES Student Profile: McNair Scholar and first-generation college student Brittany Rivera

By Alex Schmidt

While some students relaxed over the summer, Brittany Rivera spent her time working as an LUREC intern researching invasive species and soil. Most days she worked with buckthorn and collected data on the wetland’s water table. Rivera used this internship to learn more habitat restoration. “Restoration is a very complicated process,” she said. “Despite that, I do think it is our duty as humans to restore lands instead of using them to our disposal.” At LUREC, Rivera has worked under SES faculty Roberta Lammers-Campbell, Father Stephen Mitten, and Emily Zack. Although the LUREC restoration research is still not complete, she has learned about the impact buckthorn has on an ecosystem and ways to restore the area to its original wetland habitat.  Several other LUREC interns have worked with Rivera on the project, which is set to be complete by next summer.

Rivera has always been interested in sustainability, her first memories being in grade school. “I remember a specific project being assigned where our science teacher asked us to illustrate a picture showing one way humans negatively impact the environment,” she said. “I chose to depict water pollution. It was very eye-opening for me, even at a young age.” Her passion grew over the years, and ultimately led her to study environmental science at Loyola. She added being an SES student enabled her to turn these interests into transferable skills.

As a junior at Loyola University of Chicago studying Environmental Science, she’s taken the full advantage of the School of Environmental Sustainability’s course offerings.  In 2014, Rivera traveled to Belize for spring break with SES faculty Father Mitten through “ENVS/BIOL 395: Conversation and Sustainability of Neo-tropic Ecosystems.” Although students receive credit for the trip, for Rivera it felt more like a vacation than school.  “On the last day of the trip we went snorkeling at Tobacco Caye off the coast of Belize,” She said.  “Father Mitten was leading. He knew everything about different fish and all the names of the organisms. Then, I held a sea star in my hand and thought it was the coolest thing in the entire world.”

Despite Rivera’s success at SES and Loyola, she said being a first generation college student has come with obstacles.  During her freshman year, it was difficult being the first person in her family to experience college.  “As much as your parents love and support you, sometimes it’s difficult when you need advice or experience.”  However, through her involvement on campus, Rivera has found the community she needs. She’s found help through the Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA.)  Specifically, she’s been mentored through the STARS program. The program connects freshman, particularly students of color or first-generation college students, to upperclassman.  According to the STARS website, the program is meant to “provide mentees with guidance and advice through the first year of college, and assist with their transition to campus life.”

Rivera hopes that all her hard work will pay off after graduation, and that she will continue to advance her environmental science skills. She’s also looking forward to the diversity of career opportunities to explore, and may continue to work with restoration. “I am proud to be a first generation college student,” she said. “I know that I am also making my parents proud.”