While the gridiron brought Emily White's family across the South to Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas, she found her passion in another kind of field—the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors. White is the daughter of an NCAA college football coach—an occupation which can lead to relocation—and remembers a childhood spent fascinated by the natural world around her.
"I've loved the outdoors forever. I have pictures of me when I was about nine-years-old and I'm wearing these big goofy lab goggles in the woods holding a rock hammer cracking open rocks in the creek," White said.
White's childhood interest in environmental science brought her to Mississippi State University's the College of Forest Resources, which puts heavy emphasis on undergraduate research. Now a senior forestry major with a concentration in environmental conservation, she has seen her studies take significant steps to improve sustainable forest management practices through her research.
White is currently studying carbon storage capacities and rates of decomposition in different tree species native to the Southeastern U.S., data necessary for an accurate estimate of how many carbon credits should be assigned to a forested area. Carbon credits are permits that allow the owners to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, and companies can earn these carbon credits by investing in sustainable environmental management.
"As more companies promise to go carbon neutral, it's vital they implement sustainable practices that actually influence the amount of carbon in our atmosphere," she said.
White is president of the MSU Student Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, a professional student organization which has been named top three nationally for the last 26 years. Through SAF, White made connections that led to an internship with Westervelt Ecological Services last summer, where she implemented sustainable management and ecological restoration practices for the land stewardship company with different biologists and ecologists across the Southeast.
During her internship, White worked on stream and wetland restoration which effectively reduced erosion of watersheds around Alabama. She contributed to reintroduction efforts of native mussels to an Alabama a reserve and monitored the endangered gopher tortoise by scoping out its burrows in Georgia. In Florida, White performed surveys to find endangered salamanders and fish.
"The site in Florida—an old growth cypress swamp—was just beautiful. It's incredible to see because those trees are hundreds and hundreds of years old," she said.
White said her experience with Westervelt has reinforced her interest in studying hydrology and ecology to implement more sustainable natural resource management practices.
"When you're out there hiking around five to 10 miles a day, every day, seeing all these different environments opens your eyes," White said. "There's this huge world out there I want to see and explore, and it needs our help."