Beehive 5 Under 25 Awardee | Elsa Loren Schmidtke


Photo credit: Danni Washington. From left to right: Lucila, Connel, Ankita, Leandra, and Danni.


Congratulations to the 2018 Beehive 5 Under 25 Awardees!

USEE is pleased to announce the 2018 Awardees of the first annual Beehive 5 Under 25 recognition program! Modeled after NAAEE's 30 Under 30, the Utah Beehive 5 Under 25 program recognizes individuals, 25 years old or younger, who are game changers in their communities. These young people are taking on leadership positions to make a difference for the planet. They are engaging their communities, building relationships, and using the power of education to create change.

These youth are also recognizing the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity and applying those principles to their work.

We asked our 2018 Beehive 5 Under 25 to answer the following questions:


Elsa Loren Schmidtke, Salt Lake City

Elsa Schmidtke Headshot

Tell us a bit about your professional and personal background. What is your current professional role, particularly as it relates to environmental education?

I have always had a love for animals, especially marine life. My passion developed when I was around six years old and joined my first competitive swim team. Being in water makes me happy, so I continued swimming until I was 17 years old. I became captain of Skyline High School’s swim team, and loved helping my team win first place at 4A State! While I was in high school, I started volunteering at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium on their education team. I worked with summer camps, Girl Scouts, ambassador animals, and the public. I started the summer before my junior year, and I am currently still on their team. I have volunteered there for over three years, attaining over 1,300 hours. My latest role at the aquarium is as a maintenance diver. When I turned 18, I attained my Divemaster certification, making me a professional rated diver. I am now the youngest person on their dive team by three years, and I love every minute of scrubbing no matter how sore it makes me the next day. I have been able to continue volunteering as I attend college at Weber State University where I’m majoring in Zoology. After my first year of college, I became an Eco-Explorer at Utah’s Hogle Zoo working on the creative services team. I participate in narrating programs, supervising giraffe feeds, and educating the public on conservation. I believe it’s important for society to know the role zoos play in the world.

What inspired you to become a champion for the environment / environmental education? And/or what motivates you about the work you’re doing?

There have been many experiences that have inspired me to work in environmental education, but one definitely left me speechless. In early 2016, my family made our third trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium. We attended an aquarium program on the Laysan Albatross. An educator brought out Makana, a rescue albatross, and showed everyone a video about their natural habitat. The video showed their homes covered in plastic, making it hard for the Laysan Albatross to survive in their own environment. We were shown a jar full of plastic that was pulled out of a single albatross, and you would not believe what we saw. There were toothbrushes, lighters, bottle caps, and so much more. The educators explained that plastic waste was making its way into their homes and their food. The birds would end up eating plastic, instead of the fish they normally feasted on. We were told that one thing we could do was not use plastic straws because those are a single waste plastic. Ever since that presentation I will not use plastic straws. I carry reusable ones or paper ones with me wherever I go. It provides good teaching moments when people question why you have your own straw. Ever since then, I have looked into other ways we can help the environment and I like to share these methods with people. I have gotten my friends and family to stop using straws, and knowing I can influence them makes me want to continue what I do.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders that are looking to bring about positive change in their communities through EE?

My advice for future leaders is to get involved as early as you possibly can. Whether it’s by volunteering, taking classes at school, or talking to people you meet throughout your day. There are opportunities to make a difference every single day, you just have to keep your eyes open for them. Remember that we are the next generation of influencers. We have the ability to inspire many, both old and young. Don’t be afraid to advocate for what you are passionate about. Being a leader means you stand out from the crowd. If you show passion in your actions, others will be influenced and want to follow you. It can be nerve racking to take that leap in a new direction, but it pays off. You will be able to watch your influence spread through your community. Tell your friends about protecting the environment. True friends will take interest in your interests, and will spread it through their peers. You have the ability to start a chain reaction. Start now.

Who do you look up to as inspiration for your work? 

My inspiration for my work comes from not one person, but many. I have had the opportunity to work alongside many amazing supervisors and peers. I’ve worked under people with amazing leadership skills who have shown me how I too can be a leader. Ive learned from people who are incredible with the animals they work with, and their passion has planted a seed for me to grow my passion. Ive worked alongside amazing public speakers who are great about interacting with others. There are qualities about each person that I love and I try to incorporate them into my everyday life. Every person is unique so there is always something I can learn from.

If you could be any animal or plant, what would you be and why?

If I was an animal, I would be a Southern Sea Otter. I saw a sea otter for my first time in 2014 and immediately became obsessed with them. I think they are the most amazing creatures ever. I can also relate to a sea otter in a few different ways. Otters spend all day in the water swimming and diving through the kelp forest. My whole life has been focused around water as I am both a swimmer and a scuba diver! Otters also have a very energetic and playful personality. I too find that I have a lot of energy, especially at times when others don’t. We both love seafood, and can eat a lot! It would be fun to experience all of this from a sea otter’s OTTERLY adorable point of view.

elsa schmidtke optional1  elsa schmidtke optional2


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Click here to return to see all the 2018 Utah Beehive 5 Under 25 Awardees.


This program was made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of:

quinney logo dkgreen 1    Quinney College of Natural Resources

Melissa & Trent Halvorsen

Jack Greene

Join us at the 2018 Utah Environmental Education Conference and hear about the great work these 5 individuals are doing during the Utah Beehive 5 Under 25 Panel, September 14, 2018.

If you have any questions, please contact Jackie Lowry at 


What is USEE?

The Utah Society for Environmental Education (USEE), a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, has been a statewide leader in promoting high quality environmental education in Utah since 1981. USEE encourages environmental literacy by teaching Utahans how to think, not what to think, about the environment.

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