Olivia Walton

Roles at NAAEE:

30 Under 30

Education Coordinator
St. Croix Environmental Association

Hickory, NC, United States
Age: 29

Olivia leads nature-based field trips with inspirational and representative conservation heroes to encourage students in underserved communities to celebrate their environment.

How are you using education to build more sustainable and equitable communities? 

For there to be a sustainable future, the adults of tomorrow must embrace protecting the Earth today. We do not currently live in a world where there is equitable access to the educational opportunities which encourage this, especially for the youth that will be most affected by an unsustainable future. My mission as an educator is to foster a passion for celebrating and protecting the natural world through interdisciplinary, exploratory, and inspirational opportunities for kids of all ages and backgrounds, particularly the most underrepresented and at-risk members of our global community. I created Field Trips for Earth to partner with schools and organizations in underserved areas to provide students with engaging environmentally-focused field trips within their community while celebrating diverse local conservation heroes. I hope to bring representative and culturally relevant environmental education to communities facing systemic obstacles. Seeing yourself and your environment celebrated imparts the value of stewardship.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today. 

Growing up on the island of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, I had the joy of being surrounded by so many wonders of the natural world. By the age of 13, I was spending most of my free time running around barefoot or 60 feet below the ocean's surface scuba diving. A love for the outdoors was hard to avoid, but that love was then cultivated and celebrated by a family who cared deeply for the health of our environment. I was extremely privileged and would eventually come to learn that my opportunities to form a relationship with my environment weren't afforded to many other children. It was my graduate work looking at the community-level impacts of implementing environmental education in a Bahamian elementary school that would eventually empower me to embark on a journey to change that reality for students who lack access to engaging experiences in nature.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?

Learning to live in harmony with our natural world is a generational journey, not a destination. The responsibility we all share to strive for a more sustainable and equitable future is not a burden we must struggle to bear, it's a chance to celebrate the connection we have to the land that gives us life, to all that has been, and to all that will be. The leaders of tomorrow will have the responsibility to voyage onward and hopefully upward. For all those who will inherit the baton as leaders, I urge you to always celebrate your sense of curiosity and never cease to embrace the spirit of exploration. The path forward isn't paved but with courage and commitment; your footsteps will lead the way.

Who do you look up to as inspiration?

I draw my deepest inspiration from someone, really a group of someones, who I technically don't "look up to" ... at least not in the physical sense, since they are typically quite shorter than myself. I've always been most inspired by children; they are why I do what I do as well as who I do it for. The way children see the world is how I hope to always view life, with a deep sense of wonder and fascination for even the smallest of things. It's that curiosity and passion for exploration that keeps me dreaming big for both my future and theirs. My dedication to building a more equitable and sustainable tomorrow is maintained by engaging with youth and encouraging them to embrace the knowledge and tools necessary to protect our natural environment. I see a different future for them because through their eyes the possibilities are limitless.

Describe your work in a haiku.

Teach them to love Her
for tomorrow she is theirs
We have but one Earth.