Early Experiences and Chilly Environments Shape HS Scholarship Winner’s Sense of Preparedness

Abby Jeffers’ connection to resilience began at a very young age – in fact, right from the start. 

“When I was an infant, my family lost power and was unable to keep my milk cold,” she wrote in her DRI Foundation Scholarship-winning essay. “Luckily, my parents were able to think on their feet and buy some bagged ice to preserve it. But knowing what I know now, I wanted to empower families in my community – especially those with young children – to understand how to be ready for an outage based on their specific needs.”

This early experience, coupled with dinner table discussions with her father, Matthew Jeffers, CBCP, helped develop an interest in preparedness, particularly concerning environmental resources. She learned much on the subject by taking a big role in a wastewater project with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“They’d had a project that had been on the backburner for a few years, since they don’t really have anybody in their department who can take the time to dedicate to the research. So, I did about 100 or so hours of volunteer research on different wastewater treatment options.” She plans on developing her findings into a presentation for possible implementation into New York treatment plants.

For high school seniors, the Foundation Scholarship essay prompt was, “Please provide your thoughts on how you could affect preparedness in your community.” Abby chose to focus on power outages, “Because they were, in my view, one of the most universal things that can happen pretty much anywhere. And also they were one of the ones that I had the most experience with,” as a resident of upstate New York, having to prepare each winter for the impacts of extreme cold and snow storms.

But it was an event far from home that also led her to choose the topic. “As I was doing my research, I was very surprised about the recent winter outages in Texas because, obviously I’m from New York, so a lot of my experience with outages has mostly been from wind or snow storms,” she said. “So, to hear that Texas could have an outage with so much damage from an ice storm was surprising.”

As a resilience professional, her father also saw lessons in the unusual weather event. “An ice storm in Texas, if you go back to business continuity, is kind of surprise,” Matthew said. “Part of Abby’s essay was how we’re so used to these things, it becomes second nature. We prepare for them because we’re used to them as opposed to preparing for them because maybe they’re more impactful – in the Northeast, we can deal without air conditioning, but not heat. And in Texas, you can deal with without heat, but not air conditioning.”

Matthew was first to hear the news of the scholarship from DRI Foundation President Al Berman, and told Abby when she got home from school, much to her shock. “I wasn’t necessarily how good of a chance I had of winning,” she said. “So, I was surprised, but definitely super grateful.”

Next up for Abby is her freshman year at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, where she plans to major in  environmental engineering. In addition to her experience with the Department of Environmental Conservation, another experience helped shaped her interest, one common to students her age: living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, as I’m sure a lot of people did, we were spending a lot of time outside. We spent a lot of time hiking. In October, we hiked the 46 highest mountains in the Adirondacks,” she said. “That led me to I realize that I wanted to do something with the environment.”

The DRI Foundation wishes her the best of luck in the coming school year!

Click here to read Abby’s award-winning essay.