Conservation and environmental protection: From Africa to DC with Kira Burkhart (2012)
Standing in the wilderness of South Africa, Kira Burkhart (‘12), then a junior Animal Sciences major, gazed out into the grasses and watched a Rhinoceros go about its daily activities. In South Africa for a volunteer trip with African Conservation Experience, Kira describes seeing the highly endangered animal in the wild as “amazing and humbling.” During her trip she learned a lot about the issue of Rhino poaching in Africa, and felt horrible knowing there was a chance future generations wouldn’t be able to share this awe-inducing experience. That feeling inspired Kira to want to do something.
Upon returning from the trip, Kira switched her major to ENSP - Biodiversity and Conservation Biology and delved straight into the program’s classes. Among others, her favorite classes were Conservation Biology, Environmental Law, and the ENSP Capstone. She notes that those classes were “a great way of understanding how we can make an impact on the environment.” Along with her experience in South Africa, Kira learned a great deal outside of the classroom, as well. She traveled to the Bahamas with Alternative Breaks for a trip on ecotourism and conservation, and to Alaska with Life Sciences Scholars for a trip focused on experiencing the visual impacts of climate change.
Since graduating from ENSP in 2012, Kira has remained passionate and committed to environmental protection. The summer following graduation she worked for The Bonobo Conservation Institute (BCI) as a Development Intern, helping to improve the small nonprofit’s image through social media. This 3-month postgraduate internship was short, but it helped Kira realize that her future was in nonprofits. “It's nice when you’re working in an environment where everyone has similar goals, and you’re all hoping to make a difference,” she says, “It’s not so much about growing yourself, but about growing a cause.”
After BCI, Kira taught preschool at a DC charter school for two years. While she loved the teaching experience and the daily excitement that came with it, Kira soon felt the need to get back to her passion for environmental protection. Consequently, she used the online job search engine, Idealist.org, to find work as a researcher with the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), an organization dedicated to investigating cases of environmental pollution and enforcing environmental laws.
Now at EIP, Kira specializes in converting hard-to-understand data on environmental pollution into attractive visuals that the average citizen can interpret, and act upon. Two exciting projects that Kira has worked on are visualizing the impact of phosphorous pollution in the Chesapeake Bay from poultry farmers; and developing an interactive national map of groundwater contamination from coal ash. Her coal ash project can be found at ashtracker.org. Now feeling happy and fulfilled by her work, Kira intends to stay at EIP for a while. “I really like being in DC, and I really like feeling like I’m making a difference on policy,” she explains. Sometimes Kira thinks about getting back into conservation, but feels that her work fighting environmental pollution is equally important.
Asked what her advice is for current ENSP students, Kira recalls the impact her trip to South Africa had on her, and emphatically says, “Get out there! Go experience things, volunteer for different things! Don’t get stuck in the books and with studying, because when it all comes down to it, it's your experiences that are going to make a difference in your future.”