Amazing Students

Jonah Driggers

For Jonah Driggers, UGA has opened many doors, including work with the Roosevelt Institute, an internship at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, trips to England, South Korea, Cuba and Tanzania, and much more. And if he could, he’d build a playground for adults.

Hometown:

St. Simons Island, GA

High School:

Glynn Academy

Degree objective:

B.A. geography/M.S. conservation ecology and sustainable development

Expected graduation:

May 2017

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

I grew up in a small community on the Georgia coast, surrounded by marshes, live oaks and beaches. Leaving St. Simons Island — a place that will forever have a hold on me — to come to Athens was no easy task. But it is something for which I am profoundly grateful. The experiences I have had at the University of Georgia have challenged my convictions, broadened my worldview, and brought me life-changing friendships.

Although I began my freshman year with vague intentions of pursuing a career in business, I always harbored a love of the outdoors that was developed over years of Scouting and working in the garden with my dad. Experiences made possible through the Foundation Fellowship, like taking Modernist Dystopian Literature with David Bradshaw at Oxford University and hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with two of my best friends, pulled my fledgling environmentalism to the forefront. Upon returning to UGA, I began exploring this new area of interest in earnest.

As part of UGA’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute Network, I’ve conducted research on the consequences of Georgia’s slow transition to renewable energy and examined methods by which to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and increase installation of renewable energy. I was able to present this work at the 2016 TEDx Student Symposium, fulfilling a dream of speaking at a TED event. During my junior year, I directed our Roosevelt chapter’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, and this year I am coordinating policy development in the energy and environmental arena across Roosevelt’s 130 chapters nationwide.

The knowledge and skills I gained through Roosevelt and my classes in UGA’s geography and ecology departments helped me last summer to land an internship in the Office of Climate Preparedness at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Through the assistance of the Honors in Washington program, I was able to live and work in D.C., sit in on meetings with senior advisers to the president and the heads of federal agencies, and participate in environmental policymaking at the highest levels. Here too I was introduced to the ethical obligations we have to aid communities as they adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change. This is not just an environmental issue, but also carries enormous philosophical and moral implications.

In addition to Roosevelt and Honors in Washington, I am the co-executive director of The Energy Concept at UGA, where we are constantly staging events to foster a campus-wide dialogue on energy issues. I have played in the dirt as head gardener for the Lunchbox Garden Project, teaching kids about nature and nutrition. I am also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, which has been a source of constant encouragement and wonderful friendship. I find other communities in UGA’s geography department, from which I was honored to receive the Merle C. Prunty, Jr. Scholarship; in the Odum School of Ecology, where I am a master’s student in the River Basin Center; and in the Foundation Fellowship, where I have been gifted with an extraordinary family of thinkers and doers.

Last but not least, I have been able to travel beyond UGA’s campus through the support of the Foundation Fellowship. I have studied at Oxford and lived with Buddhist nuns in South Korea, and was able to visit Cuba before U.S. sanctions were loosened. This summer, I visited Tanzania and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, a trip on which I saw both the beauty of an extraordinarily unique environment and the negative impact human activity can have on such a place.

Current Employment:

I am the policy coordinator for Energy and the Environment for the Roosevelt Institute Network, the country’s oldest and largest student-run think tank. In this position, I facilitate student policy development at campus chapters across the U.S. and help to guide Roosevelt’s work in the environmental space.

Family Ties to UGA:

My grandfather on my mom’s side was a journalism major on the GI Bill. Although I never had the chance to meet him, I am told he would be delighted that I chose UGA. In addition, my younger brother is starting his own adventure in Athens this year, and I am excited to have him on campus!

I chose to attend UGA because…

… of two reasons, really. The first is that this is a fantastic university that I could attend while staying reasonably close to my family and cheering on the football team I grew up watching with my grandpa! The second factor was the incredible opportunity presented by the UGA Honors Program and the Foundation Fellowship, which has opened countless doors and provided a support system that I believe is unparalleled on any other campus in the country.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

1. Sit down in a sunny spot with a book that is completely unrelated to my schoolwork. It’s nice to take a breather occasionally and read something that has no immediate benefit beyond your own enjoyment.

2. Climb the magnolia trees on North Campus. I know — this is kind of strange. But I’m a kid at heart, and as someone who finds immense joy and wonder in the natural world and loves being up high, there are few places I feel more at peace than in a tree.

3. Go to class (most of the time)! A good teacher, of which there are plenty at UGA, can make being in class something that you actually really want to do!

When I have free time, I like…

… to do anything active. I love running at both Sandy Creek Park and Trail Creek Park, playing intramural soccer (the UGA Chudley Cannons work hard to win our token game per semester), and rock climbing at Ramsey. I also enjoy spending time with friends, cooking (I have this pipe dream of becoming a chef), playing board games, and maintaining my sub-par guitar skills.

The craziest thing I've done is…

… go on a three-day mountain biking trip in Wales’ Brecon Beacons Mountains without making any plans. Some friends and I got separated getting to a tiny town in South Wales called Abergavenny. After much mishap (trains, planes and automobiles), a full 75 percent of our group got there successfully. Once in Abergavenny, we were told to rent bikes from a Welsh guy named Bob, who met us at a gas station in a windowless van. We had nowhere to stay, but Bob, who “knew a place,” took us to a farm in the middle of nowhere and dropped us off in a field as it was getting dark. I think we all spent most of the ride planning what we would do if he decided to rob us. As it turned out, Bob was extremely kind and the field was the next morning revealed to be a campground. Moral of the story: windowless vans aren’t always bad (although you should probably still avoid them).

My favorite place to study is…

Probably one of Athens’ coffee shops! I really like Walker’s and Hendershot’s.

My favorite professor is…

This isn’t really a fair question. I’ve had so many fantastic professors at UGA. Laurie Fowler in the Odum School of Ecology is my master’s degree advisor, and has been a source of invaluable guidance. In the geography department, Jennifer Rice has been a phenomenal mentor. She has taught me that public policy must consider the context of the problem it seeks to solve and the socioeconomic consequences of its implementation, and that environmental problems and their solutions are always more complicated than they appear. Also in geography, Hilda Kurtz has taught me what it means to be an academic. She consistently pushes her students to raise their standards and examine the world with a critical, discerning lens. Lastly, Jessica Hunt, Emily Myers and David Williams in the Honors Program have consistently supported me as I pursue my goals.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

I’m divided on this one. I have so many questions that I’d like to ask — questions of existence, of philosophy and theology, of what it is to lead. If I had my way, I’d assemble a panel. If I had to choose one person, I think I’d like to meet either President Obama, who has pushed the U.S. to address climate change, or John Cobb Jr., who has done some truly fascinating work on human-environmental relations and environmental ethics.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… show the world the inherent value and dignity of both human and non-human life. I am convinced that if we were all able to internalize the true costs of our actions — war, pollution, simple unkindness — and the incalculable worth of the life that we damage, the world would be a much better place. There’s a quote by Wallace Stegner that I love: “We are the most dangerous species of life on the planet … but we are also the only species, which when it chooses to do so, will go to great effort to save what it might destroy.”

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… build a playground. OK, so I think playgrounds are awesome — the kind with slides and ladders and monkey bars. I’m sure a lot of other “grown-ups” feel the same way. The issue is that playgrounds are sized for children, so by 14 or so we’re all too big to use them (not that we should be interfering with little kids or anything). So if money was no object, I would build an enormous, extravagant playground sized for adults (10-foot-high monkey bars, giant slides, etc.), and open it to the world!

After graduation, I plan to…

Oh, this question. My ultimate goal is to end up working on climate change policy at the federal level. To that end, I’m applying to a mix of fellowships, graduate programs and law schools. We’ll see how the chips fall!

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

It’s hard to pick just one experience. I have these days every now and then when I realize how fortunate I am to be a Bulldog. Whether it’s after a particularly lively debate with friends in Moore College, standing in the midst of thousands of students at Sanford Stadium as a hype video plays on the Jumbotron, or having a year-ending picnic in the grass on North Campus, the University of Georgia has helped to make me into who I am today. For that, I will always be grateful.

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