SIU recognizes students as 2020 Environmental Ambassadors

Campus CleanupEnvironmental Ambassadors help make campus and the world a greener, more sustainable place in a variety of ways, including performing campus-wide cleanups, removing invasive species, planting and much more.  (Photo provided)

Volunteerism and helping make the world a greener place aren’t just things Southern Illinois University Carbondale students talk about — they put their passion into action.

In 2020, this marks the 19th year SIU Carbondale is recognizing its Environmental Ambassadors. These students have donated at least 30 hours toward an environmental cause during an academic year. In nearly two decades, SIU students have logged nearly 10,000 volunteer hours for environmental-related causes.

Numerous organizations and efforts benefit

The students frequently help with Keep Carbondale Beautiful, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and Green Earth cleanup efforts, along with volunteering at Touch of Nature Environmental Center events, River to River Weed Management, Free Again and other area organizations, according to Karen Schauwecker, SIU sustainability coordinator.

Katelyn Toigo, a May geography and environmental resources graduate from Grafton, volunteered this year with Green Earth and Dayempur Farm, a sustainable farm in Anna. This is her fourth year to receive the award.

“Being able to volunteer with groups like Green Earth Inc. has been very rewarding and it gives me hope seeing that there are so many people working to make a difference,” Toigo said. “I have noticed many problems facing our natural world and have felt an increasing need to do something to help. My hope is to have a career in conservation, and my volunteer experiences have allowed me to meet many people and expand my network, which will ultimately benefit me in the future.”

Schauwecker said the Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism (CSLV) plays an integral role in coordinating student environmental volunteerism as well, with many Salukis finding opportunities using the center’s volunteer portal. Sarah Marbes, center coordinator, works to form connections with community organizations and build opportunities for students to engage locally. In turn, the students help the local organizations fulfil their missions.

“I volunteer because I like to give back to the community I’m in, especially if it means I can be outside!” said Jessica Donvito, a senior forestry major from Carbondale.

She volunteered at Giant City and Touch of Nature and helped with Keep Carbondale Beautiful and Crab Orchard Wildlife Center Cleanups.

Helping with events

Dylan Gibson, a May master’s graduate in geography and environmental resources from Carbondale, focused much of his time and energy coordinating a special event this year and is proud of his work and what he learned.

“I am honored to receive to the Environmental Ambassador Award for my work supporting the 2019 North American Forest and Climate Movement Convergence, an event that sought to explore the root causes of environmental problems and center the voices of those most impacted by them through a strong environmental justice perspective,” Gibson said. “Southern Illinois has a rich culture of environmental activism and I am glad to be recognized for playing even a small role in this.”

The 2020 award winners

Despite the spring semester transitioning to online and alternative instruction, six SIU students were still able to log enough hours this year to claim the Sustainability Council-sponsored Environmental Ambassador Award.

The winners, listed by hometown, year in school, major, and where they performed most of their volunteer work, were:


  • Jessica Donvito, senior forestry major. She helped at Touch of Nature Environmental Center, Giant City State Park volunteer center, along with Keep Carbondale Beautiful, and Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Center cleanups.
  • Dylan Gibson, May master’s graduate in geography and environmental resources. He planned a local climate conference focusing on environmental justice, including planning the agenda and coordinating a youth component.
  • Ashton Szymcek, junior geography and environmental resources major. Volunteered in the university’s Sustainability office, along with writing and coordinating Saluki Green Action Team posts.


  • Katelyn Toigo, May geography and environmental resources graduate. She volunteered at Dayempur Farm and for Green Earth Inc.


  • Katherine Alleman, a senior geography and environmental resources major. She volunteered at the Giant City State Park Visitor Center and donated more than 90 hours to the Saluki Food Pantry during the year.



  • Emma Ensley, May forestry graduate. She volunteered at the Giant City State Park Volunteer Center, Touch of Nature Environmental Center and helped with the Keep Carbondale Beautiful and Crab Orchard Wildlife Center cleanups.

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