Margaret Rivas hoped to go to college to become an organic chemist, but her road to college was unexpectedly delayed when her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer.
“All of my plans for college went out the window and submitting applications was not at the top of my priorities list,” Rivas said. “It was my mother! And my baby brother, who is 10 years younger than me. He needed someone to help him in the mornings getting ready for school, picked up from school in the afternoons, assistance with homework, as well as everyday tasks and support.”
With a family who relied on her, it was important for Rivas to remain close to home. Her coaches and advisors encouraged her to seek out local opportunities for pursuing her career interests. Upon completing her associate’s degree at Pensacola State College, Rivas decided she couldn’t picture herself living the lifestyle of working primarily in a laboratory setting that a career in organic chemistry offered. She determined that she wanted a career where she could work outside of a lab and connect chemistry with the natural world.
The UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Science at Milton, Florida, location enabled Rivas to stay nearby her family while exploring natural resource conservation, a major that allowed her to continue studying chemistry with the intention of helping protect and sustain the earth’s natural resources.
Rivas took advantage of her degree program’s resources. Studying abroad in Ecuador was one of the most memorable and life changing opportunities of her college experience. While studying abroad, she lived with local families and visited Tiputini, a research facility in the Amazon, to study evolutionary change among tropical animals and plants. She hiked through the Cloud Forest, observed the ‘river of clouds’ and the ecosystem it feeds, and climbed the volcano, Cotopaxi. After visiting the mountains, Rivas traveled with her cohort off the coast of Manabi, where she swam with mantas and explored the remaining reefs. She ended her semester abroad in Galapagos National Park learning about the history of the Galapagos Marine Reserve management and how it impacts the local community.
“My favorite of all was experiencing the underwater world of such an incredible place,” Rivas said. “I swam with penguins, sea lions, turtles, a school of hammerhead sharks and many more incredible creatures. I couldn’t have made a better decision than to study at Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences that was provided through the University of Florida. It was truly worth it.”
In her advice to future CALS students, Rivas, emphasizes that it is important to not compare your situation to the situations of others.
“Some students finish their bachelor’s in three years and some finish in 10 years,” Rivas said. “Choose the path that fits you and your circumstances. Find a path that challenges you, yet allows for you to breathe – one that opens your eyes to a world other than your own. But do not forget yourself in the process. Enjoy every moment you have because these moments do not last forever.”
Conservationists protect and sustain our world’s natural resources for future generations. Well-versed in economics and communications, natural resource conservation students are equipped with strong analytical, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Students study chemistry; biology; ecology; and forest, wildlife, fisheries, and aquatic resources. Find a CALS major that suits your interests by taking our majors quiz. You can also find information regarding our undergraduate and graduate programs on our website.