Autumn Bryan, Karen Mashburn Environmental Scholar

In August, Autumn Bryan became the first recipient of the Karen Mashburn Environmental Scholars Internship and Scholarship, awarding $10,000 to her academic efforts. Autumn, a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida, and Geoscience at Florida Atlantic University, plans to pursue a doctorate in Environmental Literature. She has published articles about climate change, wildlife conservation, and environment endangerment. She volunteers as a digital archivist, serves on a wildlife conservation organization’s board of education, and has founded a Teen Environmental Alliance club at her local library. Autumn plans to continue to encourage awareness around youth services, wildlife conservation, and environmental education through her work in libraries, research labs, and nonprofit organizations.

To learn more about Autumn, enjoy her application essay below.

“Be a nuisance where it counts.”

Marjory’s words echo in my ears. I have always found it easy to be a nuisance; I would bolt upright, arm raised, disrupting the classroom’s quiet when answering questions. I would annotate in colored ink all of the text that graced my desk’s surface. Nature is my solace, and books have always been a refuge. The trees speak to me, share their secrets. I have found ways, beyond reading, to understand them. And often, I find myself a thorn in the sides of those that have attempted to thwart my pursuits. A great cypress island lives within me, and a great many grassy waters flow through, too. 

The surface of my locker in the staffroom at the library where I work is plastered in pictures of Roseate Spoonbills, Florida panthers, and that glittering river of grass. My coworkers have painted my space in the mascots of my passion. They know well that my eyes grow large at the sight of these poetries, at the thought of championing the continued existence of their fierce beauty in the world. As a passionate activist for education, environmental conservation, and human rights I strive to dedicate more time to active participation in community outreach. I have published articles tackling issues of climate change, wildlife conservation, and environment endangerment with Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation – Climate Change Working Group, an international human rights organization, and Compassion Crossing. I also volunteer my time as the digital archivist for Compassion Crossing, a non-profit initiative focused on wildlife conservation through education. They recently voted me onto the Board of Education, where we make important decisions about the educational resources provided on the website, which include everything from an academic program called Cubs Corner, where kids can earn badges for learning about different environmental subjects, to interactive games that teach children about wildlife conservation. But I still dream of dedicating more time to environmental education by interning with the Young Friends of the Everglades.

As an undergraduate at FAU, studying English Literature, with a specialization in Environmental Literature, I served as the student moderator for my university’s Breezeway Dialogues, an open-discourse platform discussing social issues, which tackled Capitalism and Climate Change. There, teachers, faculty, and students participated in a public discussion promoting constructive dialogue surrounding environmental issues. In 2022 I presented at the Outstanding Undergraduates in Research and Inquiry Symposium, placing 2nd for my presentation on the intersectionality of environmentalism and literary activism, centered around the novel Animal’s People, and the Union Carbide chemical spill in Bhopal, India, 1984. I continue to write environmental articles that highlight the importance of global human rights and environmentalism, currently drafting a piece on the biodiversity of the Everglades and its essential contribution to the surrounding ecological communities. I hope to continue this endeavor in literary environmental activism.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas employed her skills as a scientist and as writer to demand the crucial preservation of the Everglades, which supports ecosystems throughout the entire region – a fact I have passionately shared with many young patrons. Douglas’s book, The Everglades: River of Grass, and its impact on the environmental movement in declaring the Everglades a National Park, is a mirror of my own dreams. I believe in our ability to enact change through tireless effort and community engagement, through education and literature. I believe in the capacity of activism in all forms. My goal for the future is to dedicate more time to enacting actual change, to being present – to writing more, to learning more, to spreading the wealth of love. Participating in the MLIS program at USF is a crucial step in my goal to provide even more precious resources to the community members I serve as the Children’s Assistant Library Specialist at my local library in Martin County. I value my time with the children of the community and learn every day from the perseverance and resilience of the patrons.

Finding a way to give back to these members of my community is a goal just partially being realized in my initiative to encourage environmental education through my newly founded Teen Environmental Alliance. Launched this past Earth Day, teens at my library branch meet monthly to learn about the environment and engage in outreach activities that support our local community; our most recent plans include planting a community garden with Indian River State College. We focus on the environmental health of our local community while learning about the native ecology of Florida. I have partnered with environmental organizations such as the Florida Oceanographic Society, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, and the Environmental Studies Center to inspire teens to engage in environmental activism. Most recently, children learned all about alligators and crocodiles, ancient symbols of the Florida Everglades, in our most recent presentation from the Hobe Sound Nature Center. We met Cypress, the baby alligator, who taught us about the Endangered Species Act, and how to respect the indigenous wildlife surrounding us. 

Friends of the Everglades Education and Outreach Coordinator Amanda Purnell and Young Friends of the Everglades intern Autumn Bryan present the Everglades exploration kit to students at Martin SAILS on Aug. 14, 2023.

I regularly turn to the Friends of the Everglades for resources to support my efforts in educating young patrons at the library about our local ecology and the incredible Florida Everglades. As a steward of environmental advocacy, youth education, and wildlife protection, the remarkable Young Friends of the Everglades provides hope to those struggling to remain buoyant and those working toward an environmental cause. It heartens me to witness true pioneers of progressive environmental education like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in founding organizations such as the Friends of the Everglades, inspire young people to dream as well. Douglas is a stunning reminder that you are never too young or too old to herald change, that there is never a battle too big to fight, or a dream too out of reach to achieve. 

Achieving my Master’s degree in Library Science will afford me the opportunity to pursue further education and a position as a Librarian, one that will only further aid my efforts to support my community and encourage awareness around crucial issues such as youth services, wildlife conservation, and environmental education. Pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Science awards me the opportunity to dedicate precious time engaging in essential research. I have always loved to learn. My principal concerns have always been people, literature and environmentalism. Pursuing a Doctorate in Environmental Literature or related fields is one of my highest goals – I have only begun to imagine the incredible forces for change that remain possible. My academic pursuits continue; I don’t imagine they will ever end. The Karen Mashburn Scholarship would be an indispensable resource in furthering my education. With this scholarship, I will strive to dedicate all that has been so graciously awarded me to the efforts of environmental conservation, education, and the preservation of the Greater Everglades ecosystem.