“Georgia State chose me.”
That’s how Presidential Scholar Elle Shirah explains her college decision.
“I fell in love with the school while going through the application process,” she said. “Between the campus, the environmental science program and the diverse student body, I couldn’t imagine a better fit for me.”
Before being admitted to the university’s Honors College, Shirah attended Southeast Whitfield High School in Dalton, Ga., where her family has lived for generations. She was active in DECA, Mock Trial, Key Club and the Raider Ambassadors. In the absence of a club dedicated to environmental efforts, Shirah participated in stewardship and cleanup through the Adopt-a-Mile program as a senior class officer.
Still, she knew she wanted to leave a more important legacy for her high school to carry on, and a long-ignored space around the school’s pond and tennis courts gave her an idea. With help from her favorite teacher, Shirah secured a Dalton-Whitfield Waste Authority School Beautification Grant, which provided funding to transform the old space into a nature garden — an initiative they named Picnics for Pollinators. Shirah coordinated all the efforts, including recruiting school clubs and local companies to participate in a service day to clean up the area and plant native species.
“My hope is that future students can use the space to learn about the environment and how we humans can have a positive impact,” she said of the garden, which has become a focus for Southeast Whitfield’s science classes.
Now Shirah’s part of the University Assistantship Program (UAP) in geosciences, assisting with snail and slug research. It’s work she’s excited to present at the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference in the future. She considers the UAP a “rite of passage” and is grateful for how the opportunity has shaped her college experience.
Her studies are focused on environmental science, but she’s leaving open a pathway to environmental law. She can envision herself working on national policy to exert a greater influence.
“The degradation of our environment is my generation’s most pressing issue,” she said. “In the end, I want to find a way to be a voice for the environment at the global level.”
To learn more about the Presidential Scholarship, Georgia State’s most prestigious and valuable academic award, visit honors.gsu.edu/the-presidential-scholarship/.
Story by Boyd Baker, photos by Meg Buscema