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Conservation club puts ASU grad on path to protect the environment

Sara Donaldson received the ASU Alumni Association Medallion Scholarship all four years and the New American University Scholarship


Sara Donaldson

Sara Donaldson.

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April 20, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

When she first started as a Sun Devil, Medallion Scholar Sara Donaldson knew that she wanted to pursue a degree in science. While she was searching for ways to get involved on campus, she found the Central Arizona Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (CACSCB) and found her passion truly was in protecting wildlife and the environment. 

Donaldson’s experience with the club resulted in her changing her major to conservation biology and ecology in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences so she could prepare for a career in conservation. During her first ecology course at ASU, Donaldson learned about relationships between organisms and how they interact with their environment. 

“Learning about all the diverse species and plant life changed the way I saw a typical landscape,” she said. “I began to see how living things connect to each other and how they contribute to the value of biodiversity.”

During an environmental ethics course taught by Ben Minteer, she realized that not everybody thinks about the environment the same way she does.

“Dr. Minteer helped me understand that all people have different motives and backgrounds that contribute to their own personal set of ethics," she said.

Donaldson realized that people are motivated to protect the environment for various reasons and described the course as one that challenged everything she had previously learned about ethics.

Donaldson, who received the ASU Alumni Association Medallion Scholarship all four years along with the New American University Scholarship, initially chose ASU for the biology program, but also because of her father’s Sun Devil legacy. 

“He attended ASU and shared many fond memories of his education with me,” she said. The Chandler native wanted to stay close to her family during college while being able to make her own memories on the campus that her father was so proud of. She loved walking around the campus with him as he pointed out buildings he took classes in and study spots he enjoyed.

After exploring the campus for herself, Donaldson’s personal favorite spot became the balcony of the Student Pavilion. She enjoyed listening to the live music that would sometimes be playing outside the Memorial Union and eating sushi while studying with her friends.

“After class, I would go to the Memorial Union, get some food and then head over to the balcony,” she said. “Watching the day slowly turn to evening, all the colored lights surrounding the MU would illuminate the campus.”

Her advice for current students is to find a lifestyle and environment that works best for them. For her, that meant studying in a calming, outdoor spot on campus, but for others, that may mean working at home or in a coffee shop. 

Donaldson, who also minored in dance with the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, understands that each person has a unique learning style and different interests, so it’s important to “find your own groove.”

“Surround yourself with subjects that interest you and classes that spark passion,” Donaldson said. “Be brave, take chances and participate in new things.” 

After graduation, Donaldson plans on working toward her master's degree in plant biology in conservation from ASU. After finishing her degree, her dream is to work at the Desert Botanical Garden and learn about the diversity of plants there.

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