Scientists are hard at work studying our Earth. They track our planet’s problems. They search for solutions. A group called the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently honored one of these experts. On September 25, the WWF announced that Charitie Ropati had won the Conservation Leadership Award!
The WWF is a group that focuses on conserving the Earth. It protects natural resources and animals from threats like . Each year, the group gives out its Conservation Leadership Award to a person between the ages of 18 and 30 who shares those goals. The WWF gave the first award in 2019. “People like Charitie have been leading groundbreaking projects from a young age,” said Ryan Zlatanova. Zlatanova is a WWF official. “Their efforts need to be recognized.”
Today, Charitie Ropati is a student at Columbia University. She studies plant ecology. That is the relationship between plants and the environment. “I study a plant called fireweed,” she told News-O-Matic. “It grows in the Arctic.”
Fireweed spreads quickly. It sends many seeds through the air. Fireweed is able to move into areas that are damaged by human activity or fire. Ropati looks closely at fireweed that grows in her home state of Alaska. She studies how climate change may be affecting the plants.
Our planet is heating up. In 2023, experts recorded Earth’s hottest days ever on July 3, 4, and 5. These temperature changes are affecting the Earth, especially in chilly places like the Arctic. “In the Arctic, things usually change very slowly,” Ropati said. “But it’s not like that anymore.” Because of this, “fireweed is popping up in places that we’ve never seen before.”
Ropati’s work isn’t all about plants, however. She focuses on people too! Ropati has Yup’ik and Samoan . Those are groups. Ropati created lesson plans about native people for students in Alaska. She tells stories of how native people were forced to leave their homes.
“When you take people away from home,” Ropati said, “not only are families and communities impacted, but so is the land. Those are the people that best take care of the land.”
Ropati is looking to the future. She created a group called lilnativegirlinSTEM. That community gives advice and resources to native girls interested in , both online and in person at Columbia.
“When it came to conservation or STEM, I didn’t see people that looked like me, my mother, or my grandmother,” Ropati said. “I think our world would be a much better place if we had more native woman scientists!”
Updated September 27, 2023, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Tyler Burdick