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Class of 2024: Lauren Portis

Transfer student Lauren Portis took every opportunity available to explore Environmental Studies at McDaniel. Lauren conducted research at the McDaniel Environmental Center and interned at the Maryland Department of the Environment — experiences that prepared her for a post-graduation Restoration Ecology course in Greater Yellowstone hosted by the Wild Rockies Field Institute and eventually graduate school.

A student wearing a McDaniel College sweatshirt stands outside with her hands on her hips.

Lauren Portis is an Environmental Studies major specializing in Policy and Management, with a minor in Biology, from Frederick, Maryland.

When I took my first step on the Hill, I was: Embraced with open arms that felt like home. I could see myself here, I could accomplish so much; not only that, but faculty and staff wanted me to accomplish my goals. I will admit that on the drive to Westminster on Move-In Day, my nerves got the best of me. I was scared and unsure of this new journey I was about to embark on. As an incoming junior transfer, it was hard to enter uncharted territory, and facing doubt regarding where I was headed made me question everything, but then there was the immediate support I received as I arrived, my first day of class where my professors cared about who I was, and again I felt that I had found my home away from home; and I could do everything.

The me who will ring the Old Main bell on Commencement Day is: Confident and well-equipped for the life I have worked hard to carve for myself. My time at McDaniel has not been anything short of gaining new skills, honing my leadership abilities, a land of opportunity, and a place where I have been able to broaden my network. On Commencement Day, I know that I am ready for the world no matter how uncertain and uncomfortable it may be at times. I know that I can do exceptional things because I have done them here with the support of amazing faculty and friendships I have built these past two years.

Real-world experiences: In coming to a liberal arts college, I knew they would foster wide-ranging studies; in fact, McDaniel requires it. So, I took every opportunity I could to learn something new in and out of the classroom. Over the duration of my time at McDaniel, I have engaged in several activities that I am quite proud of. To meet new people and learn about my new home, I joined the Student Alumni Council, which allowed me to meet with alumni, learn why they love the Hill, and build my network.

During my first January Term, I went to Greece for two weeks, where I learned of Greek culture, myths, monuments, and legends. I had the best time. Traveling abroad alone for the first time with strangers was out of my comfort zone, but helped me mature in so many ways while making new acquaintances. I will take this experience with me forever.

In my second semester at McDaniel, I became a student worker in the Hoover Library archives, where I have been learning the art of archival science. I now have processed my own collection of Robert Joshua Gill papers and was able to share my findings at the Academic Symposium.

Through Associate Professor Jason Scullion, I gained a mentor, connected with an alum, and had the opportunity to intern at the Maryland Department of the Environment over the summer. I was also able to engage in wildlife corridor management utilizing geographic information system technology in an independent study. Along with the internship, Assistant Professor Elly Engle gave me the opportunity to participate in McDaniel’s Agrifood Program, working at the McDaniel Environmental Center (MEC) managing the Schaffer Forest Garden. I was also able to do summer research with Dr. Engle on agroforestry design, as we planned and planted a jam garden (also being presented at the Academic Symposium). I am not sure I can pinpoint a favorite as these experiences have influenced who I am and my growth in several ways, but they have all led me to take chances and say yes.

My aha moment: An aha moment on the Hill was that although it is valuable to have a great work ethic, making room for balance and setting boundaries for myself is the best way to show up as my best self. My professors urged me to slow down, and that was the best advice, as I have been able to not only do well academically, but also be social and maintain good mental health on campus especially after being affected by the pandemic at the start of college.

Footprints I'm leaving on the Hill: On the Hill I have done many things, but I would like to be remembered for the hard work I put into leaving my mark. Between archiving McDaniel’s history and helping to build the Schaffer Forest Garden for students to enjoy, I want to be remembered for the work it took to get there. Everyone at McDaniel can make whatever they want happen. As a transfer, I did not think I would have the chance to impact campus, but through my dedication I was offered many chances to do anything that interested me. I gave myself fully to the tasks set out before me, because I would like students to further enjoy McDaniel as I have, to enjoy the spaces I have built, and to know of the opportunities on campus and take risks. McDaniel has so much to offer and let my work be a testament to that fact.

Faculty or staff member who most influenced who I have become: With such a small campus and even smaller Environmental Studies department, I cannot pick one member of faculty or staff. It takes a village, and because you are a part of a family when you step foot on this campus, there is not just one most influential person. To the people who have influenced me immensely in a variety of ways I would like to acknowledge Dr. Scullion and Dr. Engle in the Environmental Studies department as well as the librarians that keep Hoover Library standing and McDaniel College’s Archivist Gwen Coddington. Without any of them, I would not have learned both academic and life skills and how to navigate the obstacles that come with life. They have kept me going with full confidence and encouragement, and I could not be more thankful for opportunities awarded to me and the mentorship provided.

A student smiles to the side while walking with a backpack on their shoulder.

Best class ever: My best class ever at McDaniel was Exploration of the Environment, a three-hour lab on Fridays, where I was challenged and valued. We spent time in nature learning survival skills, water systems, hiking, mapping, and my personal favorite, backpacking! I had to push myself some days, but with tenacity and perseverance I learned that I could accomplish anything and hike my own hike, on the trails and in life.

Tell us a little about your activities, including sports, during your years at McDaniel: When I am not working, interning, or in class, I spend time in clubs and with peers. Organizations I am a part of include Student Alumni Council, Sunrise Movement (as action lead), and Green Life (where I am the outdoor coordinator). I also participate in several honor societies: Phi Beta Kappa, McDaniel Honors Program, Tri-Beta, and Alpha Lambda Delta. I have also hosted and planned several garden workdays and planting events at the MEC. I presented at the Academic Symposium in April 2024 with my summer research and archive peers.

Took me totally by surprise: I was surprised by how welcoming and friendly everyone is on campus. Students want other students to engage in events and organizations; it is easy to get to know many people, but not everyone, like I thought, on a small campus. Faculty are super passionate about not only school success but every individual student’s success. I was used to big schools that only cared about metrics, so to come to a school that is family-oriented was a welcome change.

My favorite spot on campus: My favorite spot on campus sits behind Big Baker overlooking the football field. There is a gorgeous tree that hangs perfectly, as only one bench occupies the space. I love the peace I feel whenever I sit there after work, in between classes, and on the weekends. It is my own oasis where I read and soak in the sun. I am never interrupted, and I can just spend time decompressing, and the view is incredible.

Most mind-boggling idea I learned at McDaniel: How connected McDaniel is. Although small, we are mighty, and people know McDaniel. Our school spirit transcends borders. The alumni genuinely love McDaniel and come back (making for some great Homecomings).

My capstone title: “Taking Environmental Justice Communities into Consideration: A Case Study on Eagle Harbor.”

What it’s about in plain talk: Environmental justice is defined by the government as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, culture, national origin, income, and educational levels with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of protective environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” However, for my senior capstone, a case study, I sought to discover if environmental justice is occurring in Maryland. As we are beginning to publicize and attack injustices, states like Maryland have acknowledged environmental injustice in communities that are overburdened and underserved. To take this a step further, I examined the environmental justice community in our backyard to discover how we, as Marylanders, are actively addressing environmental injustice and what we are doing about it. I did this by using literary research for background, conducting interviews, and going on a site visit. Findings indicate what it is to be an environmental justice community, injustices faced due to a resident power plant, need for economic investment, what is being done, and what needs to be done. Environmental justice is significant, as it exposes the foundations of systems that are meant to oppress, suppress, and steal from those they do not wish to support.

What's next: After graduation I am taking a gap year to work and travel before going to law and graduate school. During my gap year I will participate in a Restoration Ecology course in Greater Yellowstone hosted by the Wild Rockies Field Institute sponsored by the University of Montana. That’s made possible by funding from the Environmental Studies department’s Cargill Fund. I currently plan to attend graduate school for conservation science and wildlife management while simultaneously studying environmental law.

How will you stay connected to McDaniel? Having spent time reaching out to alumni through the Student Alumni Council and Alumni Engagement office, I know the effort put into keeping alumni connected to the school. I plan to attend Homecoming and mentoring/networking events as I navigate life as a graduate.

If you received financial aid, what did that mean for you and your family? The financial aid I received from McDaniel was made possible through the college’s appreciation for educators, which has taken an immense burden off me and my family. This financial aid has made it possible to gain a degree without crippling student loan debt. Thank you to all donors!

About Lauren

Name: Lauren Portis

Major: Environmental Studies - Policy and Management

Minor: Biology

Class of 2024

"As a transfer, I did not think I would have the chance to impact campus, but through my dedication I was offered many chances to do anything that interested me."