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KNOXVILLE –- Ashley Yeager is about to embark on a wild — make that wildlife — adventure.

Ashley Yeager
Ashley Yeager
The University of Tennessee senior has received Nissan-World Wildlife Fund Environmental Leadership Awards. The honor carries a $5,000 cash award, the opportunity to participate in a four-day environmental policy-making summit in Washington, D.C., and the chance to take part in an all-expenses-paid research expedition to South Africa organized by Earthwatch Institute. Environmental Leadership Program aims to empower young leaders on U.S. college campuses to become effective advocates for the environment.

“I am truly excited about being selected for this program,” said Yeager, whose hometown is Mechanicsburg, Pa. “It is an amazing opportunity to meet new people and, from them, learn to look at our world with a different perspective.”

Yeager is majoring in journalism and specializing in science communication. She co-founded a science series for UT’s student newspaper, The Daily Beacon, which examines cutting-edge scientific research on campus, and is the main contributor to this series. She also serves on the Relay for Life executive committee, and is responsible for recruiting cancer survivors, faculty, staff and students for the event.

Leslie Chinery, a senior from Nashville, also was a winner, although she is studying abroad in Spain this summer and won’t be able to go to Washington, D.C., or South Africa.

Still, she said, “I am very excited to have been selected as a Nissan-WWF Environmental Leader. It’s a great opportunity for students entering environmental fields.” Chinery is majoring in environmental studies and is part of UT’s student environmental organization, Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville (SPEAK).

Yeager and the other 16 winners from across the county will participate in an environmental summit in late June in Washington, D.C. The summit will consist of workshops, presentations, and field visits. They will take part in leadership development and cross-cultural training activities to help prepare them for leadership roles in the global community. On an educational field trip to the Chesapeake Bay, they will gain exposure to environmental challenges and ways of addressing them. During visits to Capitol Hill, the Global Environmental Facility, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Embassy of South Africa and the Environmental Protection Agency, students will meet with officials to explore issues such as wildlife protection and environmental justice.

In early August, on the research expedition in South Africa, the students will work side-by-side with conservation scientists in Pilanesberg National Park and nearby wildlife reserves assessing the value of protected areas for brown hyenas and other carnivores. They will also take part in photographic safaris and cultural events in communities near the park.

Yeager, Chinery and the winners were selected based on their academic achievement, leadership ability and demonstrated commitment to the environment by an independent panel of experts in the environmental and leadership fields. Winners were selected from a competitive pool of applicants from eligible universities in five states, including California, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

The Environmental Leadership Awards are part of a new $1 million partnership between Nissan and WWF that also will support WWF field conservation work in Southern Africa and the Southeastern United States. This includes work in Southern Africa’s Namib-Karoo area, which is plagued by poor land management and ongoing wildlife destruction. In the United States, it will support WWF’s Southeastern Rivers and Streams Support Fund, which awards grants for grassroots projects to clean up polluted watersheds in Tennessee and Alabama.


Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,