Environmental Activists Vivian Sam and Matt Rader
The UNLV seniors are working to promote conservation and protect the ecosystem, in their community and abroad.
By Timothy K. DesJarlais, University of Arizona
In recent years, conservation and environmental awareness have become sexy topics on college campuses, but two University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) students have gone beyond words, bumper stickers and fancy slogans.
Vivian Sam, a Biology major with a concentration in Ecology and Evolution, is a native Californian, but at an early age moved to Nevada. Matt Rader, on the other hand, a senior studying the same subject, is a native Nevadan who was raised in a small town within an hour of Las Vegas.
Both proud Mohave Desert dwellers, Sam and Rader led a team of fifteen volunteers, along with UNLV Ecology professor Scott Abella, to help plant several species of native vegetation along the Las Vegas Wash in an effort to provide protection to the fragile ecosystem and watershed of the Lake Mead Recreation Area. They will also be using this project to observe and monitor the area’s wildlife.
I was able to speak with the two of them about their project, motivations and hopes for the future of student sustainability.
Vivian Sam: “I chose this major because I strive to learn about the natural world around me. I want to be able to take what I learn and apply it in order to benefit the environment. From being introduced to topics such as global warming, increased rates of extinction and pollution, I feel as though I have a responsibility to do my part to conserve.”
Matt Rader: “It took me a long time to decide on my major. I took a non-linear route, bouncing around philosophy and sociology classes. For a while, I thought theater was the right direction for me, but there was always something missing. When I took my first ecology course, I knew I had found something that really excited me. I have been hooked ever since.”
VS: “Being able to educate others about the importance of restoring native species to an area is important. This is a challenge facing conservation. Not enough people understand why active restoration and conservation needs to take place. Education is key. It creates a sense of stewardship and allows the information to be spread to others.”
MR: “There are myriad threats occurring across the globe right now to biodiversity. It is nearly impossible to choose just one important challenge. I think, perhaps, it is slowing down and questioning whether the weight growth and consumption in our society is sustainable. It’s important to remember that the Earth is a finite resource.”
VS: “Hopefully this sense of stewardship is passed on and contributes to more restoration projects around the country. I have been seeing more and more of those in my generation making an effort to conserve, but more can always be done. We have to keep sharing what we know, and we have to get people outside to appreciate what nature has to offer.”
MR: “With social media, I think there is a much broader awareness of the pressing issues affecting conservation. At the same time, the deluge of information can seem overwhelming, and there is a false sense that ‘liking’ a cause will make a difference. My generation is more connected than any previous generation. We can leverage our access to information to make decisions and pursue causes that we find important.”
VS: “The recent project along the Las Vegas Wash can be successful because we brought together different groups of people all for the good, common goal of restoring an area to make habitat for wildlife such as insect pollinators, reptiles and birds. As for success in plant survival, it is too soon to tell.”
MR: “The initial success [of the Las Vegas Wash Project] was tremendous, and I expect continued success as we measure the wildlife utilization over the next year. It is astounding that 15 individuals were able to plant 630 trees and understory plants in a single day. The important take-away from this project is that a group of interested and dedicated people can take something seemingly negative, such as the receding water level at Lake Mead, and create a brand new habitat for native plants and wildlife. All it takes a little initiative and progressing one day at a time to change the world around us for the better.”
VS: “For an average college student looking to be more involved in conservation, I would recommend joining a club or organization. This connects you with others with the same interests. It can be an educational ecology club, one that does community service, such as trash pick-ups at your local park or trail maintenance.”
MR: “It is easy to feel overwhelmed, like we each individually have to change the world, but I don’t think that’s the case. The important thing is taking small actions every day. Carrying a reusable water bottle instead of a throw away, carpooling with friends and taking time to buy products made closer to home are easy ways to enact change for the better. Additionally, there are non-profits, eco-minded companies and local parks/public lands that can always use a hand or two. Spending a few hours on the weekend volunteering for conservation work is an investment for the future. I think we can all subscribe to the ‘think globally act locally’ mantra.”
VS: “After finishing my undergraduate degree this year, I plan to join a Master’s program. I am very much interested in wildlife ecology, physiological ecology and entomology. Although I barely know where I see myself in five years, I know that I will be continually learning and researching throughout my career and life.”
MR: “After college, I plan to join the Peace Corps for conservation or environmental education. Following that, I plan to attend graduate school for ecology, so I can ultimately find a position that will allow me to make the greatest impact. Often, I think I would like to end up in education in some capacity. It is hard to predict what will happen in the future, so I plan to work hard and be honest about what I think I am accomplishing, and I will go from there.”