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‘Ding’ Darling awards scholarships for environmental studies

June 22, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge awarded $19,700 in conservation education scholarships to 15 students from the surrounding five-county area on June 13 at a special after-hours gathering at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

During its 12-year history, the DDWS Environmental Scholarship Program has awarded a total of $116,700.

"The society is committed to educating today's youth to become conservation stewards of the future," DDWS Education Chair Wendy Kindig said. "We work with businesses and individuals to provide annual scholarships to award to outstanding students pursuing degrees related to conservation, wildlife biology, and the environment. A big thank you to our scholarship sponsors for helping us in our mission."

Article Photos


Seven of the 15 scholarship recipients attended an award ceremony on June 13. Shown are J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Paul Tritaik, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge Philanthropic Coordinator Sierra Hoisington, DDWS Education Committee Chair Wendy Kindig and Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, far right, with recipients Maegan Mikkelson, Morgan Humphrey, Danielle Winchel, Marlin Smith, Kevin Macias, Jake Joers and Taylor Hancock.

Nine donors sponsored the 15 scholarships this year. Some were on hand to present checks to and congratulate the students who were able to attend. Many of the scholarship recipients who were unable to attend the ceremony sent thank you videos that highlighted their education and career plans.

DDWS awarded two Richard Bailey Scholarships, named in memory of a longtime refuge volunteer and donated by his family. They went to Taylor Hancock, an Estero High graduate currently studying environmental science at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, and Robert Smith, a North Fort Myers High graduate who will major in environmental studies at FGCU.

The Mike and Terry Baldwin Scholarship, named for DDWS' president and his wife, an emeritus board member, went to Katie Thorp, a Fort Myers High graduate studying environmental engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Sarah Swiersz, a Southwest Florida Christian Academy graduate studying computational and physical science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, received the Dr. Andrew and Laura Dahlem Scholarship. The Dahlems live part-time on Sanibel and were honored with a named scholarship by family members.

Barron Collier High graduate Morgan Hum-phrey, who currently studies environmental engineering at FGCU, was awarded the Dr. H. Randall Deming Endowed Scholarship for Conservation & Environ-mental Studies. Deming's family established the memorial in 2016 as a permanent endowed scholarship in his memory.

Two Leslie & Hans Fleischner Scholarships went to Anthony Bonacolta, a Bishop Verot High graduate who studies marine science and microbiology at the University of Miami, and Cypress Lake High graduate Dara Craig, who studies wildlife ecology and conservation at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The Fleischners are part-time Sanibel residents whose love of the island's environment moved them to sponsor the scholarship.

Maegan Mikkelson, a recent graduate of North Fort Myers High who is headed to UF to major in environmental studies, won the Mary Elaine Jacobson Memorial Scholarship, made possible by the Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society.

Barron Collier High graduate Kevin Macias, studying biological sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, received the Francine Litofsky Scholarship, in memory of a published nature photographer and active refuge volunteer.

Tarpon Bay Explorers Scholarships sponsored five recipients: Seacrest Country Day School graduate Stella Souza, who will study environmental science at the University of South Florida in Tampa; Adrian Dougherty, a graduate of Fort Myers High studying wildlife ecology and conservation at UF; Jack Joers, a Barron Collier High graduate studying oceanic engineering at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton; Danielle Winchel, a recent Oasis High headed to UF to study environmental science; and Haleigh Niles, a recent Lemon Bay High graduate entering Washington University in St. Louis to study environmental earth science. Tarpon Bay Explorers started the original DDWS scholarship program in 2007.

The Jane Werner Endowed Environmental Scholarship, DDWS' first permanent endowed scholarship established in 2011, went to recent Naples High graduate Griffin Alexander, who will attend UM to study marine ecosystems, policy and law. The family of the late Jane Werner, who volunteered at the refuge for 25 years, set up the scholarship in her honor.

"These students become part of the greater 'Ding' Darling family," Kindig said. "We welcome them back as scholarship applicants next year and as fellow conservation stewards in years to come."

DDWS will award scholarships of $1,000 to $4,000 each at the end of the 2018-19 school year. High school seniors and college students living in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties and pursuing careers in biology, conservation and environmental studies are eligible.

For an application and to read full descriptions of 2018 scholarship winners and donors, visit

Individuals and businesses interested in establishing a named scholarship of $1,000 or more for 2018-19 can contact Birgie Miller or Sarah Lathrop at 239-472-1100, extension 4.



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