Illness opened up an interest in science for Molly Mariea, 16, an East Aurora High School junior.
Molly just represented the Buffalo Zoo at the leadership camp of the Polar Bears International in Churchill, Manitoba.
"I had bacterial spinal meningitis and spent many weeks in the hospital," said Molly, recalling her illness of several years ago. "This time in my life sparked interests in biology and science. It made me wonder why I got this illness and how I could help others from acquiring this same illness."
Molly, who now enjoys snowboarding, skiing and snowmobiling, wants to help save the polar bear. She said the polar bear population in the western Hudson Bay area of Canada "has dropped 22 percent since the early 1980s."
"Polar bear populations are showing signs of stress due to shrinking sea ice," she said.
Molly, who won an $11,000 scholarship to study polar bears in the wild, stayed in the mobile Tundra Buggy Lodge, near a polar bear habitat.
While in Canada, she also looked at the impact of climate change, the role of zoos in polar bear conservation and the difference between captive and wild management. Her lecturers included leading polar bear researchers and scientists.
Molly always had compassion for animals. She made scarves to raise money for homeless cats and dogs, and was inspired by a tour of the zoo.
"I'd like to study environmental science," said Molly, pointing out that she favors Clarkson University, in Potsdam, northern New York.
On the subject of natural resources, she quoted Mahatma Gandhi in her scholarship-winning essay: "[There's] a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed."
"In today's society, many people think that things such as natural resources are free and can be abused without penalty," said Molly, who added that she wants to make "a change in this world for the better and allow all generations to come to see the wonderful world that you and I see today."
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Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P. O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.