Through her internship with UConn Extension, environmental studies major Khadija Shaikh ‘24 (CAHNR) is spending her summer working with Connecticut Trails to make the great Connecticut outdoors accessible to everyone.
Shaikh is working on several projects for Connecticut Trails. One of these is the Trail Census, which tracks how many hikers and bikers use each trail to help managers understand which trails are most- and least-used.
Shaikh is writing descriptions of trails for Trail Finder, an interactive website that helps people explore Connecticut’s trails and plan trips.
“We hope this website will be the go-to place for people who want to go outside,” Shaikh says.
Shaikh advocated for the addition of a land acknowledgement on the site, something she felt was an important inclusion to acknowledge the original indigenous stewards of the land.
She is also working on developing the CT Trails website including a pioneering blog project focused on “my environmental story.” The blog will give diverse voices the chance to share their connection with the environment and environmentalism.
“I believe we all have a relationship with nature,” Shaikh says.
Shaikh is passionate about social justice issues related to climate change. As a BIPOC woman, she is committed to showing that anyone can be an environmentalist and that environmental issues often take a disproportionate toll on communities of color.
“I was always scared because I didn’t see other BIPOC women in the environmental movement,” Shaikh says. “I’ve learned the importance of going out and making connections because it’s important to make your voice heard.”
Shaikh is also working on the PATHS (People Active on Trails for Health & Sustainability) project which supports marginalized communities getting outside and connecting with nature. PATHS uses a social ecological approach to health education that emphasizes the health, community, and economic advantages of trails and other natural resources in the state.
“What I liked most was the fact that it was a new project and had the goal of connecting marginalized communities outdoors, something I have never seen before” Shaikh says.
Shaikh was initially drawn to this opportunity when she saw the involvement of extension educator Laura Brown. Shaikh had worked with Brown through the student environmentalist group EcoHusky and NatureRx, a program focused on physical and mental health promotion through nature.
“Everyone in this work is passionate about what they’re doing,” Shaikh says.
Connecticut Trails collaborates with many other state organizations including UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR), the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the Department of Transportation (DOT). These collaborations not only make their projects stronger but are helping Shaikh network with environmental leaders in state government agencies.
“We’re always collaborating with other organizations,” Shaikh says. “That’s one aspect of my internship I adore.”
The College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources’ Extension internships provide students with the opportunity to learn and work in a paid career-oriented role.
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