Q&A with Victoria Reidenbach, ACES ’22

Scholarship recipient Victoria found her calling early when she wrote a high school paper about man-made pollution on the beaches of Hawaii. Now she is devoting her time at Illinois to understanding and researching ways to tackle these preventable environmental issues.
Interviewed by Kim Schmidt
Photograph by Abigail Bobrow

How did you decide to come to Illinois and to study natural resources and environmental science?

To be completely honest, Illinois was not on my radar because I was set on going to school out-of-state, but my mom pushed me to make a visit to Illinois. While I was on my visit, I fell in love with the old buildings and traditional college campus I had dreamed about. It was nothing I had expected, but it turned out to be everything I wanted in a school. I had been set on studying environmental science after I wrote a twelve-page term paper about ocean pollution in high school. I wasn’t sure that Illinois had the major I desired, but after talking with the undergraduate recruiter, I was positive that Illinois had the exact program I wanted to pursue.

Glacier National Park

Can you tell me a bit about your interest in state parks and hiking? Which parks have been most memorable to you?

I’ve always had a love for nature as a child but growing up in Washington D.C., I wasn’t able to really spend as much time in nature as I wanted to. My parents made sure that every summer we were able to go somewhere new and exciting, and I always asked to go to national parks. I never found anything more peaceful than hiking through the solitude of nature and breathing the fresh air. My favorite place I’ve been to yet has been Glacier National Park in Montana. As we traveled up Going-to-the-Sun Road, we pulled over at an almost angelic scene of a wall of flowers with the most bees I had ever seen in my life, and I just felt euphoria in the mountains. My older sister lived in Hawaii while I was in high school, so my twin sister and I made a trip to visit her. I had all these expectations in my head of bright and beautiful beaches, but when we landed in Honolulu, I was in complete shock at what I saw. The beaches of Waikiki were full of pollution from human activity, and it absolutely disgusted me. That’s when I knew I had a strong passion for environmental science—nothing had upset me that much and made me feel so empathetic for the wildlife.

Glacier National Park, photo courtesy of Victoria Reidenbach

How has being a scholarship recipient shaped your undergraduate experience?

It has really motivated me to push myself through these challenging courses. I’ve had a job since I was 15 years old, and my family doesn’t have enough money to put me and my twin sister through college at the same time, so receiving this scholarship really lifted a burden off my family. Even the smallest amount of money makes a difference, and I’m so glad Illinois and scholarship donors were generous enough to realize that. I’ve always worked hard in my academics, but knowing people are proud of me and want me to be the best I can be, has motivated me even more.

Badlands National Park

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After I graduate from Illinois, I want to join the Peace Corps for two years of service. I want to be able to apply my knowledge to less fortunate communities who could benefit from my aid. After the Peace Corps, I am hoping to get a job with a federal agency like NOAA or the EPA. I’m not quite sure on what job I’d like to hold within those agencies because of my broad range of interests, but I’d love to be able to research environmental issues and propose solutions to the problems.