Standing amidst a sea of protesters in her hometown of Mexico City, Mexico, Paulina Casasola felt the energy. The group had gathered to demand clean water in the still developing country where little attention is focused on the environment.
“To be surrounded with people that care like I do and are willing to speak about it and do something about it … it’s really nice,” Casasola said. “You could feel the energy of the people that really want change.”
The protest was just one of the ways Casasola had been involved in the environmental community – she has been part of Greenpeace Mexico for five years and joined Greenpeace U.K. while studying abroad in London for a semester during high school. There, she protested outside the headquarters of Shell, an oil and gas company that drills in the Arctic. She also wrote letters to political candidates in the U.K., encouraging them to stand against hydrofracking.
Casasola’s love for science began at age 7. She spent afternoons in her family’s garden, opening flowers to inspect the contents hidden inside. She asked for microscopes for Christmas and spent four summers at a camp where she learned how the water system in Mexico City works.
She always dreamed of going to college in the United States, something few students from her high school are able to do. They don’t provide a counselor, so Casasola had to figure out her future on her own, she said.
One of her friends attends Syracuse University, and she recalled his love for the school. She searched SU on the College Board website and ESF popped up under suggested schools.
“I saw that it was specifically for the environment and I was shocked,” she said. “I was like ‘I wanna go here and I don’t even know anything about it …’ I just thought there is no other place like ESF,” she said.
Casasola visited campus after receiving her acceptance letter. Shortly after, she found out she had been awarded a scholarship.
“I freaked out,” Casasola said. “I was jumping around my house, telling my sister that I had gotten a scholarship and that it would make everything so much easier.”
Come this past August, she took the nearly 3,000-mile journey from Mexico City to the ESF campus to start her freshman year as an environmental studies major. She said ESF met all her expectations, but, at first, living in the United States on her own was a challenge.
“The language barrier has made everything a lot harder, especially when it comes to studying and exams and reading,” she said. “But I mean, that’ll be the hardest part.”
In October, Casasola took a trip to Lake Ontario with her favorite class: Environmental Studies Seminar taught by Dr. Jack Manno. At the lake, students visited different locations to review how the water had been polluted or cleaned and to observe its diversity. She said she likes that she and her classmates share a similar interest in noticing how humans act toward the Earth.
Casasola hopes to turn her ESF degree into a career regarding either environmental pollution or environmental injustice.
“To me those are the major issues in my city,” she said. “I came to the U.S. because my major does not exist in Mexico at all. We need people that take care of those issues.”
Casasola has witnessed environmental injustice throughout her life and said she feels she needs to do something about it. Her grandmother has Parkinson’s disease, something many of the elderly living in her community have acquired; scientists are investigating links between contaminated water and Parkinson’s disease.
In order to better her community in Mexico, Casasola looks to ESF for inspiration. She said the ESF community is an example of what the world should look like and what the world should do.
“It’s a school that has a spirit,” Casasola said of ESF. “The people that are here really care about the world. They really want to improve it, so even in the smallest actions they have, you can see some difference made.”