University of Vermont

Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship Recipients Write Letters of Appreciation

In memory of Kate Svitek former Rubenstein School student

Elephant in South Africa

Dear Svitek Family,
Thank you so much for my incredible summer experience. Thanks to your generosity, I was able to spend two weeks in South Africa studying elephants and their effects upon the landscape through the organization Operation Wallacea, which implements biodiversity and conservation management research programs across the globe. The experience I had was unique and unforgettable – I have been exposed to so much information that I would never have attained had I not gone abroad. As a wildlife biology major with a desire to work in the realm of wildlife management, the opportunity to see Africa’s megafauna first-hand, and to take part in conservation efforts for a favorite species of mine, the elephant, was an experience simply beyond words. These animals are so real, and so powerful, and yet so threatened by our existence. Learning the local view on the way to conserve the land is an impossibly important aspect of successful conservation, and I feel so privileged to have had the insight to Zulu and South African viewpoints that I had while working in South Africa.

The research was conducted in the Thanda Private Game Reserve in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, just south of the border with Swaziland. There is much conflict in reserves regarding having enough space for the animals. Elephants hugely impact their habitat, frequently knocking over major trees, shrubs, and anything in their path, and can completely decimate an area. In an unfenced system, this is fine, because the elephants can move through and have a new area to browse. In a fenced system, elephant damage poses a problem because once they have destroyed an area of reserve, there is nothing left to regrow and provide for the continued needs of the animals of the reserve. Many small herbivores rely on the vegetation and are not supported when elephants have destroyed it.

One of the questions the research was trying to solve is the carrying capacity of these reserves. We did point counts each morning to determine what birds live there, as birds serve as indicator species, and conducted vegetation analyses each afternoon, recording elephant damage, vegetative species and abundance, and how impacted the various trees, shrubs, and grasses had been by fauna in general. I learned so much about the ecology of the area— tree, track, and scat identification, bird calls, life histories of the famous African mammals and many lesser-known species, and also about conservation management in the region, both historically and today. Apart from the surveys, I had some amazing experiences with the animals themselves, one such experience coming literally face-to-face with the 5-ton bull elephant that you can see above, who got annoyed by our Jeep. We saw all of the Big Five game species except for white rhino, as well as a plethora of other mammals and birds. I was privileged to see wildlife management in action on one survey site with a pack of African wild dogs on the reserve whose diet was being supplemented by the managers there. African wild dogs are critically endangered, with around 2,000 left in the wild. Not only was it an opportunity beyond belief to see an entire pack of wild dogs feeding, but meeting the people involved taught me a lot about what sort of jobs exist for wildlife managers.

I would not have been able to have this experience without your generosity. I went as an unpaid volunteer with program costs as well as flights and internal transfer expenses, but I truly wanted the experience to work first-hand in the savannah. As a college senior just starting to get field experience, I think it is very important to take advantage of every opportunity possible to get out in the field, get experience, and learn what I want to do. As I have learned, this often means accepting unpaid positions. I feel very fortunate to have been able to pick up this position and make the trip to this amazing country.

Again, thank you so much for the generosity that allowed me to have these experiences. It is a trip I will never forget and knowledge that I will keep from now on as I approach my own career in wildlife management.

Allison Middleman

Youth wilderness adventure participants in the western U.S.Dear Svitek Family,
I am writing you today to thank you for your support and enabling me with the opportunity to enjoy the most educational and meaningful summer I have experienced. Thanks to your generous scholarship award, I was able to work for Wilderness Ventures this summer, a youth leadership expedition company based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Heading into Spring semester, I knew I wanted to spend my summer following one of my many passions, but I could not see myself committing to anything short of incredible. When I was accepted as a Trip Leader for Wilderness Ventures, I knew that this opportunity was the position I could not pass up. The moment I found out I was to be placed on the Northwest Trip – a 28-day expedition that wanders throughout Washington and Oregon – I literally shouted out loud in the middle of the library!

As the summer neared, I learned I was to be leading 10 teenagers on a trip that included activities such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, mountaineering and backpacking – the same itinerary used on the original trip 40 years ago. As excited as I was for these activities alone, I was even more eager to meet my students and embark on a journey that would surely influence both mine and their development.

Hailing from everywhere between Manhattan and Tennessee, my students ranged in age from 14-17, and the majority had never spent any amount of time in the Pacific Northwest, never mind living outdoors for any significant amount of time! However, by the end of the month-long expedition, these High School students had become proficient backcountry travelers in every sense, from setting up camp and cooking meals to summiting Mt. Adams, a 12,281 foot glacier-capped volcano.

Other than the senses of achievement and perseverance that I witnessed from my students, nothing meant as much to me as the relationships that developed between the kids. Throughout the trip, the students bonded from the countless challenges and difficulties that they helped each other overcome. I watched a group of teenagers – who started as an awkward, reckless bunch – develop into mature, responsible young adults who cared for each other and expressed great leadership qualities in their day-to-day actions. On the last day, I could not deny the sense of pride that came with watching my students help each other check in for their flights, reminisce about their adventures, and enjoy their last moments together.

I wanted to thank you once more for your support. If it were not for this Memorial Award, I would never have had the opportunity to have such an impact on a group of young adults that I know will last them a lifetime, and I myself would have not realized my true passion in life.

Patrick Hurley

Max Ebenstein at top of highest peak he has ever climbedDear Mr. and Mrs. Svitek,
I am writing to express my gratitude for the generous scholarship funds that you have donated to the [Rubenstein School]. I was fortunate enough to receive a portion of the scholarship money to help me along my way with a summer internship I completed this past July and August. I am a Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Major, and my internship was with a ski guide company in Sun Valley, Idaho. Without the money I received from the Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation Award, it would have been much harder for me to complete my trip out west for the internship. Your generous offer helped me make the trip to Sun Valley and allowed me peace of mind about missing paid work for the time I was gone on my experience.

This internship was truly an amazing event for me and has helped me along my career path looking towards the future. During my time in the mountains around Sun Valley I completed many long days of work, while also having time to reflect personally on where I see myself going after my senior year at UVM. I spent many days chopping, hucking, and stacking firewood for the upcoming winter. This grueling task is the cornerstone to keeping the guests warm and comfortable during their stays at the yurts in the winter. On our wood cutting trips we visited all 6 of the different yurts that our company owns. At each yurt we experienced different terrain, ecosystems, and breath-taking views. We would cut wood or repair the yurts from 8 am to 4 pm and then have time to bike or hike around and explore the different areas. Other tasks that I completed during my stay were camouflaging one yurt so as not to be seen from the nearest hiking trail, staining yurt decks and saunas to protect them from rot, digging a pit and building a latrine over it, and insulating one of the yurts to provide more warmth during the winter season. These are all tasks that are integral to the success of the company during the by Max Ebenstein while on western internship

Ski guiding has always been a dream job for me. When I first visited Sun Valley to complete Avalanche 1 training with a UVM course, I made a connection with the guiding company we worked with. After completing this internship with them, I have realized that ski guiding can be a reality for me, and this has made me very happy and excited for the future. This internship has helped me along my career process and also helped to provide me with my next opportunity after college, as a winter intern with the same company! I thank you so much for helping me along the way in realizing my ultimate goals. Without this summer internship, I don't know if I would have been able to make the connections I was able to. I have attached some pictures from my many trips into the mountains while doing work for the company. I hope you enjoy them and realize truly what an amazing experience you have helped provide me with.

Max Ebenstein

Dear Svitek Family,
Words cannot completely describe how grateful I am to you. This scholarship allowed me to have an incredibly adventurous summer coupled with a stupendous educational experience. When I received my acceptance to the Cabinet-Yaak Grezzly Bear Project, I felt so blessed to be given the opportunity to participate in such a well-known and exciting wildlife project. But I was a little nervous about how I would pay for the experience. Specific gear was required, and gear tends to be quite expensive. Additionally, I needed to travel from small town Vermont to even smaller town Montana, and I knew my travel expenses would be quite hefty.  Thankfully, your scholarship really helped me. Instead of worrying about financial issues, I was able to fully prepare myself for the internship.  I filled my extra time by reading articles and other information about grizzly conservation and the project.

Natasha Lekach setting up bear hair trapsFor the internship, I lived in the Bull River Valley of northwestern Montana for two and a half months. The Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear project uses DNA analysis to determine the population of grizzlies in the 2.24 million acre Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. Every day, I hiked around five to fifteen miles in order to obtain hair samples of bears in the region. Bears naturally rub on trees, so we set up rub stations that would collect the hair. We also used a non-invasive hair trap system to collect more hair. Each hair trap was a circle of barbed wire around trees. In the middle, lure was poured. The lure was an amazing concoction of year-old fermented fish and fresh cow’s blood. You cannot even imagine how horrible this stuff smelled! Even though it smelled, I could not have been happier when I was out in the field. With these two systems, we were able to collect a huge amount of hair. This data will be sent off to a DNA analysis lab. From this data, the population [of grizzly bears] will be estimated by 2014.

Hiking is a very large passion of mine, and I was fortunate to be able to combine my passion for wildlife biology and hiking this summer. I really cannot thank you all enough for this scholarship. I learned so much about grizzly bear biology, research, and myself.

Natasha Lekach