Friday, November 5, 2021
  Student Life, Community

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – NOV. 4, 2021 – Alonso Ponce, a UTRGV junior environmental science major, grew up with a fascination for his natural surroundings – from small reptiles living in his backyard to finding ways to save the environment.

Interest in the environment stemmed from when he bravely picked up his first lizard when he was very young and saw it wasn’t so scary, he said. And, there was also a little nudge from his father, who told him, “Don’t just watch cartoons, tune in to something educational.”

Ponce, who grew up in Tamaulipas, Mexico, but attended school in Brownsville, Texas, would change the channel from “Power Rangers” to the Animal Planet and found an idol in Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter. He found the show to be “something real.”

“I knew there was an Australian man out there who was jumping into ponds and catching 15-, 16-foot-long crocodiles, by himself. And I told myself, ‘I want to be like that.’ Because all the work he did was trying to fight misconceptions people had about certain animals. He was educating,” he said. 

Ponce, an undergraduate student assistant for the UTRGV Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said he hopes his own educational journey will guide him to help people, animals and the environment.

HELPING FUTURE ENVIRONMENTALISTS

During the Spring semester 2021, Ponce landed an internship with the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit conservation organization His work there was part of an effort to expand the growing Audubon on Campus network and “investing in the next generation of conservation leaders.”

The National Audubon Society’s mission is to help protect birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and “on-the-ground” conservation. “Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive,” according to its website.

Alonso Ponce poses with an iguana
Alonso Ponce shared his experience interning with the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit conservation organization. (Courtesy Photo)

Ponce applied and Audubon contacted him with his acceptance into its internship program.

He started working with the organization’s education sector and found that educating people about the animals and their habitats was exciting.

“My love for animals and the environment stemmed from just reading books and seeing pictures of animals when I was younger,” he said. “So, the thought of contributing to lesson plans and possibly inspiring other young kids wanting to become environmentalists and care for animals was really wholesome.” 

The internship lasted about four months and was a remote experience. Typically, such internships are held in person, but had to be adjusted to respect the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ponce worked on creating newsletters, helped with an educational game, and helped with the organization’s educational curriculum, which focused on bird-friendly practices, bird migration and a federally threatened species, the Florida Scrub Jay. 

The internship taught him about bird populations and the environment, and improved some of his technical skills, he said. It helped him hone his analytical skills and communication, too, and was a great opportunity he plans to apply to his studies. 

“They gave me a wider view of the environmental problems taking place on Earth,” he said. “I found that I wasn’t as good in certain areas as I thought, but better in other areas I didn’t think about before. 

“I learned how an organization works, how projects work, how newsletters are made, and how websites are run. Also, I saw how the organization communicates with the various chapters across the country,” he said.

“And of course, you can’t be a part of the National Audubon Society without learning about birds.” 

“MODERN-DAY LORAX”

Ponce is on track to graduate in 2023. He still has a lot he wants to accomplish at UTRGV, though, and is considering a career in environmental law.  

His ambition is to educate people about the environment, and animals, and to teach them what they can do to help the planet. Sort of like becoming a “modern-day Lorax.”   

“I’d be happy having any job that has to do with the environment and actively helps people,” he said, “Anything I can do to help, I will be more than glad and satisfied to do for the rest of my life.”

Visit www.audubon.org to learn more about the National Audubon Society. 

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.