Meet The 2019 SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory CouncilApril 3, 2019
April 3, 2019
Part of our mission at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is to inspire the next generation of stewards for our planet. One way we do this is through the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council.
Each year we select an outstanding group of young leaders from across the country to provide guidance and input to our work from a youth perspective. Over the course of the year, this group of students will directly lead programs that support conservation work, share our conservation messaging to far-reaching audiences, and collaborate with SeaWorld and Busch Gardens leadership to help guide strategies and decisions in a meaningful way.
This year we selected nine new Youth Advisory Council members from more than 100 outstanding applicants from across the United States. These young leaders will join our returning members as they serve a two-year term on the Council.
Let’s meet the 2019 SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council!
Ada Hazen – Madison, WI
From an early age, Ada has had a keen interest in lake wildlife, water quality, and conservation. As a coxswain for Camp Randall Rowing Club and the youngest citizen monitor of water quality for Clean Lakes Alliance, Ada’s volunteer time and athletics are directly connected to the lakes and water quality in her hometown. Her interest in biology and conservation has spurred various science projects and papers in school. Learning about this opportunity from the director at her local zoo, she is excited to continue her work as an advocate for lakes and wildlife by partnering with SeaWorld and Busch Gardens on the Youth Advisory Council. Her goals in the future include a career involving marine biology or environmental science.
Alex Henson – Cape Coral, FL
Growing up camping, boating, and fishing on the coastal waters of Southwest Florida, Alex Henson's outdoor experiences have motivated her to become an engaged conservation activist who strives to protect our beautiful blue planet, endangered seas, and fragile communities. In addition to her 2019-2021 seat on SeaWorld’s Youth Advisory Council, where she has been inspired to work with other environmentally-minded teens towards positive change for a cleaner Florida, Alex is honored to be the 2018-2019 Chairwoman of Keep Florida Beautiful, Inc.'s Youth Council. Alex also holds a national seat on Keep America Beautiful, Inc.'s Youth Advisory Council. She occupies the coveted position of 2019 Chairwoman-Elect of Keep Lee County Beautiful, Inc.’s Youth Advisory Council. Energized by participating in the last six Youth Ocean Conservation Summits at Mote Marine Laboratory, Alex has founded her own public outreach program to help educate and captivate others. Alex’s grant winning program, “Project L.E.A.D.”, aims to mobilize a network of local youth to work towards innovative environmental solutions. A five time Carson Scholar, Volunteer Florida Recognition Award recipient, former Student Government President, previous 4-H Club Secretary, 4-H Emerald Award winner, and Rotary Youth Leadership Award recipient, Alexandria Henson is a dedicated humanitarian that works hard to help influence and spread awareness for a more eco-friendly future. Implementing change is not possible without knowledge, and by utilizing her seat on the SeaWorld’s Youth Advisory Council, Alex is motivated to educate others about the importance of litter prevention and conservation methods.
Andrea Campos – Germantown, MD
Andrea is a graduating senior from Clarksburg High School and is ecstatic about participating in the Youth Advisory Council. Ever since she was little she’s had a passion for caring and learning about the animal Kingdom and that passion steamed into the direction in which she is going to study in college. Andrea is an avid book reader and a huge Harry Potter fan who shares her geeky excitement with her two younger siblings. She enjoys mixing her music taste from Ranchera to Pop and Rock and everything in between to make every playlist both different in sound and sentiment. Andrea also has a strong work ethic that she puts into her studies, as well as her volunteer efforts at school, in church and her time at Maryland Zoo with public programs. Andrea also applies her experiences in traveling abroad to fuel her curiosity and appreciation for various cultures around the world. She also uses her ability to speak several languages to try and break down the barrier in communication when speaking to a family member, friend or stranger in need of aid. Andrea’s dedication and passion towards education and service meld together to make her a strong individual with the drive to make a difference for her family and all those in need around her.
Christian Petrisko – Waltham, MA
Inspired by Steve Irwin from a very early age, Christian Petrisko founded Wild Over Wildlife, a 501c3 non-profit organization, while still in elementary school. He provides a sanctuary for abused and abandoned small exotic animals and educates children about them, as well as the issues threatening our planet. Christian utilizes photography for conservation purposes and has produced several short award-winning documentaries that raise awareness about endangered species like whale sharks, Galapagos sharks, manta rays, American Crocodiles, and manatees. Through fundraising, Christian has purchased and protected large tracts of land to prevent deforestation on several continents, while never forgetting about the needs of local habitats. Four years ago, his organization embarked on a large scale mangrove restoration project which is serving as a model for a similar venture in Kenya. This year’s harvest will be used entirely to rebuild the Florida Keys after they were devastated by Hurricane Irma. Christian is an avid angler, SCUBA diver, and aquarist. Being acutely aware of the importance of the reef systems in our oceans, he works on coral transplants and restorations whenever possible.
Cori McWilliams – Vero Beach, FL
Cori McWilliams, age 15, has been formally involved in sea turtle conservation since age eight. She initially began volunteering with the Brevard County Barrier Island Center, eventually sharing her sea turtle knowledge through speaking engagements and outreach programs to schools, scout troops, and other civic organizations. Cori founded the Kids for the Sea club, aimed at encouraging youth participation in environmental conservation. To date, the club has received multiple grants for conservation projects, directly engaging more than 1,000 youth.
Cori is still active with the Brevard County Barrier Island Center, and additionally is a member of the Sea Turtle Preservation Society’s Emergency Response Program, a nesting scout for both the Sea Turtle Conservancy and Friends of the Carr Refuge, and an education volunteer for Coastal Connections, Inc. She is also currently the longest-serving member of the Keep Florida Beautiful Youth Council.
Cori’s conservation efforts have been recognized by multiple organizations, including: SeaWorld’s Environmental Excellence Program, Keep Indian River Beautiful, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Wyland Foundation, Oceana, Terra Cycle, Beneath the Waves, Rocket21, and Sea Urchins Magazine. In her spare time, Cori enjoys scuba diving, drawing, hiking, and photography.
Emily Cavanaugh – New York, NY
Emily Cavanaugh is a sophomore at New Explorations into Science, Technology + Math High School (NEST+m) in New York City. Despite being born and raised in the concrete jungle of New York City, Emily has had a love of wildlife from a very young age, attending Central Park Zoo Camp and YMCA Farm Camp. She volunteers as a Discovery Guide for the Central Park Zoo, where Emily educates children and the general public about wildlife conservation. While attending the Acadia Institute of Oceanography Marine Science Programs, she developed a specific interest in marine wildlife and conservation. Emily is also engaged in scientific research and was selected twice to present at the Citywide UA Science Expo at the American Museum of Natural History. As a member of her school’s Research Club, Emily studied European Green Crabs and their detrimental effects on intertidal ecosystems. She presented a TED-style talk on her research at the High School Science Research Pathways Symposium.
In addition to a passion for wildlife, Emily also enjoys public speaking and fiction writing. She serves as Chair of her school’s Model UN Club and also works on The Eagle, her school newspaper. Emily’s fiction writing was published in her school literary magazine, The Epoch and earned two silver keys from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her play, “It’s History” was a Regional Competition Finalist in the Young Playwrights for Change Playwriting Competition, and read by professional actors in an Off-Broadway performance.
Grace Doleshel – Ravensdale, WA
Grace is a 17 year old student from Enumclaw, Washington. She plans on graduating in 2019 with her Associates of Arts degree and transferring to a four year university to finish her Bachelors in conservation biology. Her long term goal is to obtain a doctorate of veterinary medicine and become a zoological veterinarian with a focus on marine mammals. Grace has been a volunteer at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium for four years and has been involved in numerous conservation projects including fundraisers for endangered species and speaking to Washington state legislators about wildlife trafficking. She has also been a part of the planning team for the Puget Sound Youth Ocean Conservation Summit for two years, and was a member of the selection committee for the Dr. Holly Reed Conservation Fund grant program in 2018, where she reviewed grant proposals for conservation projects from around the world. She has spoken about her experience in conservation and community outreach at multiple Youth Ocean Conservation Summits as well as the University of Washington. Grace aims to live a plastic free lifestyle and regularly posts on social media about issues such as climate change, deforestation, and plastic pollution in attempt to educate her peers and others on conservation issues. In addition to her volunteer work with PDZA, Grace is also a volunteer firefighter for King County Fire Protection District 47. She is vice president of the KCFPD 47 Volunteer Firefighters Association and was named Fire Recruit of the Year for 2018.
Julia Simon – Stanford, CA
Julia Simon is from New Orleans Louisiana and is now a freshman at Stanford University. Julia volunteered as a junior zoo keeper at Audubon Zoo for five years where she developed her passion for conservation. At Stanford, Julia serves as a docent at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, providing field-based education to community members, and as an operator for the Codiga Resource Recovery Center, aiding research on replacing aging wastewater infrastructure. Julia plans to major in Environmental Engineering with a focus on coastal ecosystems with the aim to one day find a career in wetlands restoration and remediation.
Kaitlen Vargas is 17 years old and a senior in high school. She was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Her interest in conservation began at a young age due to her passion for animals and the environment as well as her time spent in the beautiful and biodiverse country Colombia where her family is from. She has been a member of the Houston Zoo’s teen program, Zoo Crew, since 2015 where she has worked as a Junior Zookeeper giving her first-hand experience in spreading the conservation message to the public. Her time at the zoo has provided her with the skills and tools needed to continue pursuing her dream of working in conservation. Kaitlen is the President and cofounder of her school’s Environmental Club as well as the president of Envirothon. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing and painting as well as reading and playing guitar.
Luke Harris – West Islip, NY
Luke Harris is a graduate from West Islip High School and is currently attending the University of Delaware, class of 2022, as a marine science major. Growing up on Long Island, Luke was surrounded by the ocean his entire life, and spent his summers on boats and at the beach. After visiting SeaWorld for the first time at the age of 3, Luke grew to love marine life. He developed a strong passion for learning about and protecting the ocean and its animals, his favorite being the killer whale. Luke has pursued his passion by working as an educator at the Long Island Aquarium, teaching families about marine life, and how to protect our oceans. Additionally, while in high school, Luke conducted a research project which involved utilizing mucus samples collected from SeaWorld’s killer whales. His goal was to determine if mucus could be used as an alternative source for collecting DNA from killer whales in the ocean, as opposed to using biopsy darts. Luke has visited all three SeaWorld parks, and both Busch Gardens parks, as well as having attended camp at both SeaWorld Orlando, and SeaWorld San Antonio. These amazing experiences have helped Luke develop a stronger desire to become involved with the company and its mission to protect wildlife. Luke is incredibly proud to be a member of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council, and is eager to use his skills and background to help spread awareness about protecting our natural world and our one ocean.
Lyle Seeligson – San Antonio, TX
Lyle Seeligson is a 20-year-old sophomore at Harvard University majoring in History and Science, with a focus on environmental science and environmentalism. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Lyle grew up spending a great amount of time in rural South Texas on a cattle ranch, where she developed a love of the outdoors and of nature. At school, she continues to pursue her interest in conservation and the environment by working within Harvard’s Resource Efficiency Program, through which she serves as a point person for her dorm on issues of sustainability and helps to create and implement campus-wide sustainability initiatives and educational projects. In addition to informing her peers on how to live sustainably on campus, she also aims to encourage an appreciation of nature in other students as a leader with the First-Year Outdoor Program, through which she leads pre-orientation backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail for incoming first-year students. This past summer, Lyle was able to further her studies in conservation work as an intern for the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Additionally, on campus Lyle pursues her interest in politics through the Harvard Institute of Politics, an undergraduate, non-partisan political organization in which she has served multiple capacities, including helping with speaking events and assisting with programming for political guests brought to campus. She hopes someday to merge her interests in conservation and politics by working in the realm of environmental policy, after she (somehow) thru-hikes the Appalachian Trial.
Maggie Peacock – Lipan, TX
Maggie Peacock is a sophomore in high school. As a child, SeaWorld sparked her passion for wildlife conservation. When she was only in the fourth grade, she began to raise money and teach fellow students about endangered species and how to help save them. In the fifth grade, she founded a group known as V.O.I.C.E.S, which stands for Volunteers Operating In Cooperation for Endangered Species. V.O.I.C.E.S’ main goal and purpose is to raise funds and awareness for endangered wildlife around the world while educating and inspiring the community to protect the environment. All of her conservation work has led her to some amazing experiences, including spending time with the legendary Bindi Irwin. Maggie is currently ranked first in her class and is on varsity basketball, cross country, and track. She is also the environmental ambassador of student council, president of her school’s FCA group, publicist of her local FCCLA chapter, and active in FFA. She is thrilled to serve alongside other empowered teens in the advisory council.
Mariam Touni – Sunnyvale, CA
Mariam Touni is a high school senior from Sunnyvale, California and is honored to be part of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council. She has always had a love for Marine Biology and Astronomy since she was a child. Her love for science reveals itself from her constant visits to her local Aquarium, watching documentaries on marine life and astronomy, and going to the beach once a week during the summer. Mariam’s love for Culinary arts also shows from her experience in the kitchen and her new found love for Fashion Design after her first fashion show. Mariam is part of an organization called Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and has served in leadership roles including their California State President. During her years in FCCLA, she has developed life lasting friendships and the courage to take on challenges, big and small. Mariam uses “Aspire to Inspire before you Expire” as a life goal in everything she does. Because of the inspiration she has gotten from family and friends, she hopes to inspire others that anything can be achieved with hard work and family. She loves Indie music, star gazing, and fun facts about anything.
Marie Harris – Auburn, AL
Marie recognized first-hand the necessity for people to advocate on behalf of the environment while volunteering at the Birmingham Zoo. It was there, surrounded by knowledgeable, passionate people from many different areas, that she learned just how many issues existed that demand our attention, and just how impactful individual actions could be in conservation efforts. She is particularly interested in the intersection of the environment with human health and advocates that the preservation of the latter inherently relies on the preservation of the natural world. Her volunteer work is now primarily focused on food waste and food insecurity, and she has spent hundreds of hours volunteering with the Mother’s Milk Bank of Alabama and the Campus Kitchens Project at her university where she leads volunteers through a process of salvaging food, repackaging into nutritionally balanced meals, and delivering them to food insecure individuals. She hopes to continue to cultivate these passions and ultimately pursue a career in environmental health research or policy.
Maura Glovins – Columbia, SC
Maura Glovins is a second year Marine Science major and Education minor at the University of South Carolina (USC). Having grown up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Maura quickly developed a love for being on the water. She found her niche for ocean conservation in both informal education and research. Maura currently works as an education intern for USC’s Office of Sustainability where she teaches local elementary students about sustainable practices. She also promotes marine conservation by presenting touch tanks at community events with USC’s marine science club.
This past summer, Maura was an intern for the NSF Research Internship in Ocean Sciences (RIOS) program at Rutgers University. She conducted an independent research project analyzing fish and crustacean populations during the construction of an artificial reef. Through her work, Maura was able to study how reefs can boost nearby marine populations, especially those that may be affected by overfishing. Maura has also assisted research in both geological oceanography and zooplankton laboratories at USC for which she received the Magellan Apprentice Award.
Nicole Meimaris – Chicago, IL
Nicole is a senior at Whitney M. Young High School located in Chicago, IL. Throughout high school, Nicole has continued to develop her interest in helping the environment through grant writing for nonprofits. She has secured $22,000 from corporations such as Patagonia and Lexus to fund an initiative called Operation Endangered Species. She is currently developing a habitat restoration program to implement a recovery plan for nesting site preservation and restoration of shorebirds in the Midwest. In addition, she has raised $20,000 for the Danny Did Foundation, an organization founded in honor of her late friend Danny Stanton. This money was used to purchase 40 seizure-detecting devices for epileptic patients across the country. Nicole is also the co-founder of an initiative at her school called “Hit the Lights”. This effort resulted in the gym of her high school to be remodeled with new, eco-friendly motion-sensor switches and LED lights. Through Nicole's partnership with SeaWorld's Youth Advisory Council, she was able to co-found the SeaWorld Youth Entrepreneurial Awards, which funds ecologically impactful start-up initiatives nation-wide. Nicole hopes to dedicate her next year on the advisory board to expanding this program. When Nicole isn’t engaged in activities that help the environment, she spends her free time playing piano, writing songs, and spending time with her family and friends.
Owen Bachhuber – Roseville, MN
Owen Bachhuber is a freshmen at the University of Minnesota majoring in Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. Owen has always loved learning about animals and visiting them at zoos. His passion for wildlife led him to become heavily engaged as a volunteer at Como Zoo during high school where he participated in the zoo’s Nature Walk interpretive program and Youth Engagement Program in addition to volunteering as an assistant aquarist.
Although he loves all animals, Owen has a special affinity for animals often considered “creepy” or “scary” like snakes and spiders. As a member of the Minnesota Herpetological Society, he has fostered over forty reptiles and found homes for many. Owen has an extensive menagerie of his own which he uses to introduce the public to reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Owen and his creatures make visits to local fairs, museums, libraries, and schools. He takes great satisfaction in helping others overcome their fears and begin to appreciate their connections with the natural world. To support his passion, Owen works at Twin Cities Reptiles where he enjoys helping customers select and care for their pets.
Owen looks forward to serving a second year on the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council. He hopes to make a career of caring for and teaching others about wild animals and their habitats.
Sophie Kalmin – Bellaire, TX
Sophie is a fifteen year old living in Houston, Texas. Ever since her start in conservation, she’s been raising awareness for her favorite animal, rhinos, everywhere she can by handing out bracelets with the names of endangered animals on them. Her favorite way to raise money is also one of her favorite ways to pass time: baking! She started a website called cookiesforconservation.com before starting the process of raising over $10,000 for the Grevy's Zebra Trust in Kenya by having a bake sale at her house. Sophie is a ninth grade representative on student government and started a school wide project for the school to print reusable water bottle with its logo in order to encourage students to use them. She is also a participant in Model United Nations (MUN) and plans to lead a younger group to a conference in Dallas. Sophie visited San Francisco this past October for the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Annual Expo and met several remarkable conservationists that she is modeling herself after more each day. Sophie’s inspiring passion for wildlife at such a young age is her most remarkable trait.
Suma Moolavesala – Wayne, PA
Suma has always had a passion for the environment and for youth advocacy. She has been a volunteer for the Philadelphia Zoo since the summer of her freshman year of high school and has served thousands of guests by educating them about the power of conservation. Along with her work at the zoo, Suma also serves as President of the Teen Advisory Board for the Tredyffrin Library. She is the current president of her school's Speech and Debate Club as well as an editor for the yearbook. Suma also has a passion for business and politics which is exemplified by her participation in Model UN and her position as District Representative and PA State Officer of DECA. Not only was Suma the sophomore representative of her class for a leadership conference known as HOBY, she has served as a member of A-Team and helped run the conference.
Wilson Sherman – Santa Barbara, CA
Wilson Sherman is an 18-year-old from Santa Barbara, California. He currently attends the University of California, Berkeley, where he is majoring in Conservation and Resource Studies with minors in Journalism and Public Policy. He is passionate about wildlife conservation, sustainability, service, education, and media arts, and aspires to work protecting wild animals and teaching people to love the natural world.
Starting in 6th grade with a campaign to ban single-use bags, Wilson has had a passion for making the world a better place through organized action and community service. After completing more than 1,000 hours of community service with a variety of nonprofit groups throughout Santa Barbara County, Wilson has developed a rich and diverse set of skills in animal care, education, leadership, and media arts. He is involved with organizations including the Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History's Sea Center, Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute, Help One Walk International, Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, and the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. Wilson spent his last summer in Namibia interning with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, and continues to work with their development team on education efforts in the US. He is looking forward to another year with the Youth Advisory Council!