provided to The Santiva Chronicle
“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) this summer awarded $29,200 in conservation education scholarships to 13 students from the surrounding five-county area. During its 18-year history, the DDWS Environmental Scholarship Program has awarded a total of $262,400 to deserving students.
“The society is committed to educating today’s youth to become future conservation stewards,” said DDWS Education Committee Chair Nancy Felker. “We partner with businesses, families, and individuals to provide annual scholarships to award to outstanding students pursuing degrees related to conservation, wildlife biology, environmental engineering, policy, and science.”
Of the 13 scholarships, three are permanently endowed. Individuals passionate about helping students make a difference in all areas of conservation donate the other scholarships on an annual basis.
The Richard Bailey Scholarship, named in memory of a longtime refuge volunteer and donated by his family, went to Stanley Carter Oleckna, a graduate of Imagine High School in North Port. He pursues a major in biology with minors in chemistry and climate change at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers.
The Mike & Terry Baldwin Scholarship, named for a DDWS past president and his wife, an emeritus board member, went to Chase Qurollo, a Cape Coral High alumnus who is heading to the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando to study environmental engineering.
Robert Marlin Smith, a North Fort Myers High and FGCU graduate entering his first year of FGCU’s environmental science master’s program, received the Dr. Andrew and Laura Dahlem Scholarship. The Dahlems live part-time on Sanibel Island; their family honors them with a named scholarship.
Ella Guedouar, an Estero High and FGCU alumnus entering the University of South Florida’s integrative biology Ph.D. program, received the Dr. H. Randall Deming Endowed Scholarship for Conservation & Environmental Studies. Deming’s family established the scholarship in 2016 as a permanently endowed scholarship in his memory.
Liliana Salazar-Juarez graduated from Immokalee High and will represent the first generation in her family to attend college. She will study wildlife biology at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee and received the “Ding” Darling Conservation Scholarship, made possible by an anonymous donor.
Two Leslie & Hans Fleischner Scholarships went to Chloe Lowman, a Cypress Lake High (Fort Myers) graduate intending to study environmental science and law at UCF; and Fort Myers High School graduate Elise Brown, planning to double-major in environmental engineering and music at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The Fleischners were parttime Sanibel residents whose love of the island’s environment has inspired them to sponsor the scholarships for several years.
Tori Guarino, an alumnus of Golden Gate High in Naples and now attendee at FGCU majoring in biology with minors in environmental education and chemistry, received the Mary Elaine Jacobson Memorial Scholarship, made possible by the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society.
Established as a permanently endowed scholarship by the estate of longtime DDWS board and Education Committee member and her husband, the Win and Marilyn Kloosterman Memorial Scholarship went to Blade Kalikow, a Community High School of Naples alumnus. He studies environmental engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass.
Emelia Valentz, a graduate of Port Charlotte High who will attend USF to double-major in pre-architecture and computer science, received the Barry & Francine Litofsky Scholarship, in memory of two former refuge volunteers made possible by their children.
The Tarpon Bay Explorers Scholarship went to Mark Leone, who graduated from Estero High and is attending Stanford University in California, where he pursues a degree in engineering for extreme environments. Tarpon Bay Explorers, “Ding” Darling’s recreation concession, started the original DDWS scholarship program in 2006.
Two Jane Werner Endowed Environmental Scholarships, established in 2011 as DDWS’ first permanently endowed scholarship fund, went to Dara Craig, a Cypress Lake High and Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.) alumnus earning her doctorate at the University of Oregon in environmental science, studies, and policy; and Mallory Poff, an alumnus of Barron Collier High (Naples) and Elon University in North Carolina starting work on her master’s degree in mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University in North Carolina.
The late Jane Werner, who volunteered at the refuge for 25 years, established the permanent scholarship fund prior to her death.
“These students become part of the greater ‘Ding’ Darling family,” said Felker. “It is wonderful to see what they are accomplishing through their studies and their enthusiasm for making a real difference in conservation. We welcome them back as scholarship applicants next year and as fellow conservation stewards in years to come.”
DDWS will be awarding scholarships starting at $1,000 each at the end of the 2023-2024 school year. High school seniors and college students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties pursuing careers in biology, conservation, and environmental studies are eligible.
For an application and to read full descriptions of 2023 scholarship winners and donors, visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/student-scholarships.
Individuals and businesses interested in establishing a named scholarship of $1,000 or more, or about general endowments in support of the work at the refuge, should contact DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller Gresham at 239-292-0566.
As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop profits. To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit dingdarlingsociety.org or contact Birgie Miller Gresham at 239-292-0566 or firstname.lastname@example.org.