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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Life + Arts

Environmentalist, cancer survivor, Glamour mag winner… just another UH student


Geology junior Vanessa Alejandro fought thyroid cancer, got back on her feet as soon as she could and doubled her efforts to educate others about the environment. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

As a young girl, Vanessa Alejandro roamed the back roads of Pearland on four-wheelers with her cousins and siblings, discovering a love for the world that would culminate in research of uncharted territories of earth science.

“My cousins and I had this amazing opportunity where we could just roam,” Alejandro said. “We spent a lot of time just playing outside.”

That same love for the outdoors led her to succeed in research and create the non-profit website Warriors of the Wild, which has helped thousands of urban youths gain her appreciation of wildlife and earned the geology junior a spot on “Glamour’s Top Ten College Women of America.”

Alejandro did it all after defeating thyroid cancer in 2013, a feat she credits with restoring her passions. She went through a series of radioactive iodine treatments to combat the cancer, which took a toll on her health and her academic career. She took time off but returned in Fall 2013 with a new perspective.

“When treatment was over and I had to go back to ‘normal life,’ I had to ask myself what type of life I wanted to live,” Alejandro said. “Basically, I had to make the choice to really live, and I decided by living I wanted to make more of an impact.”

Alejandro was notified that she had been chosen by Glamour out of 2,000 applicants in December.

“When treatment was over and I had to go back to ‘normal life,’ I had to ask myself what type of life I wanted to live. Basically, I had to make the choice to really live, and I decided by living I wanted to make more of an impact.”

Vanessa Alejandro, geology junior

The official selection was declared in April, and Alejandro traveled to New York City and met with professionals from around the nation who could offer advice and encouragement for continuing to pursue their dreams.

Alejandro and the other recipients spoke on a panel in front of high school girls, answering questions and encouraging teenagers.

“It was very inspiring and empowering,” Alejandro said.

Making an impact comes naturally for Alejandro. At Dawson High School, she founded a recycling campaign, actively participated in her local environmental club and, in her free time, enjoyed soccer and cross country.

Alejandro and a few of her friends originally began Warriors of the Wild in 2011 when she noticed children in urban areas lacking an appreciation for nature due to having little to no exposure to the outdoors. The after-school club allowed children to hold live animals and see an interactive skit about the preservation of nature. After positive feedback, Alejandro and her friends expanded Warriors of the Wild into the non-profit organization it is today.

After graduating high school in 2011, Alejandro solidified her interest in an environmental science career when she traveled to Colorado for the summer to conduct research on native marmots and their habitat.

“We tied all these things in with science, which really got me because I could do geology and this whole other side to it. In geology you’re dealing with things that affect us every day.”
After graduation, she wants to join the Peace Corps or obtain a Fulbright Fellowship and earn her master’s in geology.

Alejandro said her long-term goal is to work in public policy with the United States Department of State on environmental policies while also kick-starting environmental education programs.

Alejandro said she recognizes that her health setbacks had her working harder to achieve her vision for environmental awareness.

“The point is not to focus on what is hard, but to take that hardship and build from it.”

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