Alumni Spotlight: Zola Berger-Schmitz Takes Us Back
As Laurel Springs alumna, Zola Berger-Schmitz continues to shelter in place with family, she watches how quickly online education became the norm and can’t help but think back on her high school experience. Since graduating in 2015, she’s been busy building her career in environmental and climate policy and recently filled us in on how she’s excelled thus far.
Reconnecting with Counselors
One sign that Laurel Springs provides Upper School students with excellent guidance is the fact that alumni are still in touch with their college counselors! When Zola caught up with Laurel Springs’ College and Alumni Relations Manager, Alyssa Polakowski, they covered the highlights of the past, present, and future, including the launch of LSS Alumni Connect, the new network for reconnecting with Laurel Springs peers. Zola admitted how she was “reflecting on how well my high school experience prepared me for college and for finishing graduate school online. I can’t believe it’s been a little over five years...and I’m so glad I got to work with you throughout the college process! I’m sure you’ve helped many students carve out their college trajectories since then, and all of them are so lucky to have your expertise and guidance…”
That guidance is what led to “courses tailored to my interests in environmental science and marine conservation such as Honors Oceanography, which aren't typically offered in many high school curriculums.” Not only did Zola dive into classes she’s passionate about, but she also benefited from “the flexibility afforded by Laurel Springs... I was able to pursue environmental activism more seriously during my junior and senior years of high school. If I had attended a brick and mortar school, I wouldn't have been able to travel across the state of California and attend environmental hearings or participate in environmental advocacy days at the state capitol.” The combination of a flexible schedule and diverse curriculum “enabled me to gain a foundation in environmental studies before I started college, and prepared me well for rigorous college courses in the environmental science department at Emory.”
Well-Prepared for Progress
Zola had a lot to share about her college experience at Emory University. “I had so many incredible professors at Emory who were instrumental in introducing me to the world of national and international climate science and policy.” Even early in her college career, Zola was an active participant in learning more about this field, including attending the UN Climate Conference as a student delegate and taking part in a field research program on international climate science and diplomacy. “Through my experiences with the Emory UN delegation, I was able to meet and interview climate leaders and negotiators from around the world, which was incredibly inspiring.”
With the support of one of her professors, Zola founded a statewide environmental conference called “Universities for a Greener Georgia, which brought together students and faculty from seven universities across the state.” She also spent summers interning with the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Senator Kamala Harris, and the environmental business division at Honda--which would lead to her current position as a policy analyst in the sustainability division.
A Change in Key
When Zola isn’t advocating for climate change and sustainability, she’s immersed in her second passion, music. “I have so many great memories of all my undergrad performances in the Emory concert hall. I met so many friends in the Emory symphony orchestra, and had a fantastic viola teacher from the Atlanta symphony orchestra.” Her love of music not only spanned from high school to college, but it also crossed borders when she participated in the Borromeo Music Festival in the Swiss Alps for two summers.
Zola continued her European tour by receiving her master’s degree at the London School of Economics. “Even though I had to leave London early due to the pandemic, I’m so glad I got to complete the majority of my degree in person while experiencing a new city. I just finished my master’s dissertation a few weeks ago and I’ll officially graduate with my MSc in Environmental Policy and Regulation in November.” Now Zola is back in California, working from home like many professionals all over the world, feeling thankful for all she’s been able to accomplish along her personal and educational journey.
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