Educating a New Generation About Conservation

January 20, 2017

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Adrienne M. Bermingham ’11, MS ’14 heard a small voice squeal with delight. 

A first-grader stood in the middle of his elementary school gym with cardboard binoculars pressed to his eyes. Using Google Cardboard technology, he was transported to Tanzania where he watched chimpanzees swing through the trees in Gombe Stream National Park.

“It was an emotional moment for me,” Bermingham recalls. “I couldn’t think of a better way for a child to learn about deforestation and chimpanzee habitats than this virtual reality alternative to viewing animals in captivity.”  

Bermingham is the U.S. program coordinator for Roots & Shoots, the global, youth-led community action arm of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). Roots & Shoots empowers young people to identify challenges (human, animal or environmental) in their communities, develop solutions to those challenges and take action. 

Started in 1991 by one of the world’s most famous conservationists, Jane Goodall, PhD, and a group of students from Tanzania, Roots & Shoots is 150,000 members strong and represents 130 countries. 

Bermingham develops educational materials, including online courses and toolkits, for educators interested in getting their students involved in a Roots & Shoots project. She also travels the country to provide hands-on demonstrations. 

Her work has a global reach as well. Bermingham represented JGI at the World Youth Congress in Brazil and the Global Student Leaders Summit in Costa Rica. 

Back in the U.S., Bermingham engages members by providing guidance through email, social media and the Roots & Shoots website.

“It’s a daunting but rewarding task,” Bermingham says. “I collaborate with the next generation of conservation leaders about issues that are important to the future of our world.” 

Bermingham notes that Roots & Shoots isn’t just for school-based programs but for all young people who want to make a difference in their communities. Like a group of children in Florida who solved the issue of black bears coming into their neighborhood, attracted by uncontained garbage.

“The ‘Be Bear Aware’ campaign encouraged people to be better citizens of the Earth and showed them how to share their community safely with animals,” Bermingham says. 

All members draw inspiration from Jane Goodall.

“Dr. Jane encourages young people to take action now and be leaders today,” she says.

Bermingham always knew that animals and conservation would be integral parts of her life. She just wasn’t certain how they would translate into a career.

“It was serendipitous,” Bermingham says. 

While pursuing a degree in political science, she discovered Canisius’ world-class animal behavior program. Through that, Bermingham was introduced to leaders in the conservation field, among them Goodall. 

“I was struck by her fierce determination and confidence as a powerful voice for animals and the planet,” she says. “I realized then that my passion would help me find my way.” 

The rest is history. 

Bermingham earned her undergraduate degree in political science with coursework in animal behavior, and later a master’s degree in anthro-zoology. Her Canisius education, she says, was “an exercise in compassion and humility.” 

Today, Bermingham works to prepare the next generation to intrinsically care about the welfare of animals and the environment. With Jane Goodall as her partner, the future looks bright.