Back to Blog Home

Meet The 2018 SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council

February 2, 2018
Meet The Next Generation Pledging To Taking Action with SeaWorld.

February 2, 2018

Every day we work to inspire our audiences and guests to connect with and care for the natural world. We understand the pressing challenges facing our environment, and the importance of collective action to improve the health of our planet. Therefore, we recognize the urgent need to reach and engage young people in our conservation work at an early age.

In 2015 we launched the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council uniting an outstanding group of young leaders from across the country to provide guidance and input to our work from a youth perspective, while directly leading programs that support our conservation work and priorities. Our Youth Advisory Council was created with the understanding that in order to accomplish our goal of reaching youth audiences around the world with conservation messaging, we must meaningfully engage young people in guiding our decisions and work.

Since the program’s inception, we’ve learned from and collaborated with an amazing group of Council members, who have strongly influenced our work and elevated the importance of youth leadership throughout the zoological community.

“The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council is an important part of our strategic planning process,” states SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Corporate Curator for Conservation and Education, Bill Street. “The advice, perspective, and energy the Council brings provides our leadership with youthful insight to make our parks more accessible and engaging for the next generations. The Youth Advisory Council also provides a great opportunity for these amazing young adults to grow their leadership skills and potential.” Youth Advisory Council Coordinator, Sean Russell shares that, “Meaningful youth leadership must play a key role in the work of conservation focused organizations. Through the Youth Advisory Council SeaWorld is setting the bar for authentic youth engagement in the fulfillment of our mission and work.” 

We're excited to welcome eleven new members to the Council this year, selected from over 100 outstanding applicants from across the United States. These young leaders will join our returning members as they serve a two year term on the Council. Let’s meet 2018 SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council!

Adelaide Hazen

Adelaide H.

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsion

From an early age, Ada has had a keen interest in lake wildlife, water quality, and conservation. As a coxswain for Camp Randall Rowing Club and the youngest citizen monitor of water quality for Clean Lakes Alliance, Ada’s volunteer time and athletics are directly connected to the lakes and water quality in her hometown. Her interest in biology and conservation has spurred various science projects and papers in school. 

Learning about this opportunity from the director at her local zoo, she is excited to continue her work as an advocate for lakes and wildlife by partnering with SeaWorld and Busch Gardens on the Youth Advisory Council.  Her goals in the future include a career involving marine biology or environmental science.  

Arwen V. 

Arwen V. 

Hometown: Boise, Idaho

Arwen has attended nine SeaWorld and Busch Garden summer camps across the country while also working at San Diego SeaWorld's summer camp. She loves to travel all over the word and hopes to one day visit penguins in Antarctica. 

She is currently attending Boise State University majoring in Biology with an emphasis in Zoology and a minor in Psychology. She hopes to use this degree to potentially work at a zoological facility in training and taking care of animals that are both terrestrial and aquatic.


Audrey W.

Audrey W. 

Hometown: Elm Creek, Nebraska

Audrey, a junior at Elm Creek Schools in the heart of Nebraska, has always had a passion for animals and conservation. Her work to help restore the Platte River and to advocate on behalf of the Sandhill Crane has won her recognition in Nebraska and Washington D.C. Audrey has also worked as a volunteer at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and is currently serving on their Youth Leadership Team. As a member of FFA, Audrey has been promoting the lifesaving benefits of milkweed and conducting research on milkweed’s ability to clean oil contaminated groundwater and to serve as an air bio monitor. In addition to her research with milkweed, Audrey has also worked to promote healthy soil and precision Ag irrigation techniques. 

As with most Midwestern youth, Audrey is also very active in 4-H and recently was recognized by Monsanto and the National 4-H Council for her social media platforms promoting the importance of honeybees and healthy soil. This year she will be continuing her work with Monsanto and 4-H to promote awareness of the monarch butterfly. Finally, Audrey was among a trio of youth recognized by the Joe Foss Institute and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner for her advocacy work on behalf of Civics Education. 

Christian Petrisko

Christian P.

Hometown: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Christian founded Wild Over Wildlife, a 501c3 non-profit organization, while still in elementary school. He provides a sanctuary for abused and abandoned small exotic animals and educates children about them, as well as the issues threatening our planet. Christian utilizes photography for conservation purposes and has produced several short award-winning documentaries that raise awareness about endangered species like whale sharks, Galapagos sharks, manta rays, American Crocodiles, and manatees. 

Through fundraising, Christian has purchased and protected large tracts of land to prevent deforestation on several continents, while never forgetting about the needs of local habitats. Four years ago, his organization embarked on a large scale mangrove restoration project which is serving as a model for a similar venture in Kenya. This year’s harvest will be used entirely to rebuild the Florida Keys after they were devastated by Hurricane Irma.  Christian is an avid angler, SCUBA diver, and aquarist. 

Daniel Bisgrove

Daniel B. 

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Daniel has been a ZooTeen volunteer with the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation at the Phoenix Zoo since 2014, working more than 2,000 hours between Education, Hoofstock, and Bird Departments. In addition, he interned at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans during the summer of 2017, assisting with Guest Engagement and Animal Husbandry. 

Last year, Daniel was thrilled to assist a host of fellow zoological institutions in an effort to raise awareness and funding for Vaquita and their conservation through the #Pied4aPorpoise social media campaign. He is excited to achieve even more with the Council this year.

Jesse Freeze

Jesse F.

Hometown: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Jesse is sixteen-years old and an eleventh grader attending Richmond Hill High School, in Richmond Hill Georgia. He was a founding member of the Richmond Hill Field Studies Program (FSP), which researches the local salt marshes and provides monthly environmental monitoring for state databases. Jesse is also a founder and leader of the high school extension of the FSP, organizes local conservation projects with his peers and also provides mentorship for students in the middle school FSP. Jesse also participates in training and research events at MAREX, the marine extension services from the University of Georgia, in Savannah. He is certified by the state of Georgia for water testing and is well versed in a wide range of ecological tests. Jesse is an avid artist and has taken courses at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Scientific Illustration. He is interested in marine biology and frequently studies and illustrates marine organisms. 

In his free time, Jesse studies martial arts and is a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo. He has been an active member of his local Boy Scout troop for the past six years, and completed his Eagle Rank. Jesse volunteered more than 200 service hours for the science programs in his community in the past year and has also participated in many community service projects with his youth group and with his Boy Scout troop.

Julia Simon

Julia S. 

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

Julia is a senior at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Julia has been a junior zoo keeper at Audubon Zoo since eighth grade where she developed her passion for conservation. Not only does Julia work with and showcase unique and endangered animals, she also educates the public about important environmental issues affecting our quality of life like climate change. 

In addition to volunteering at the zoo, Julia is a lab assistant at Tulane University where she works with graduate students studying microbiota and its ability to help wetland plants adapt to changing environmental conditions. Post high school, Julia plans to pursue a college degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Spanish.

Kaitlen Vargas

Kaitlen V.

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Kaitlen is 16 years old and a junior in high school. She was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Her interest in conservation began at a young age due to her passion for animals and the environment as well as her time spent in the beautiful and biodiverse country Colombia where her family is from. She has been a member of the Houston Zoo’s teen program, Zoo Crew, since 2015 where she has worked as a Junior Zookeeper giving her first-hand experience in spreading the conservation message to the public. Her time at the zoo has provided her with the skills and tools needed to continue pursuing her dream of working in conservation. 

Kaitlen is the President and cofounder of her school’s Environmental Club as well as the president of Envirothon. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing and painting as well as reading and playing guitar.

Madison T.

Madison T.

Hometown: St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Madison is an 11th grader from Florida who attends Stanford University Online High School. She aspires to be an exotic/marine animal veterinarian with a focus on conservation of endangered species. In the pursuit of this career, she conducts scientific research on the sea turtle, oyster, alligator and pangolin with scientists across the world and competes in science fairs up to the national level.  She has been named second in the nation in STEM mathematics by Broadcom Foundation for her environmental oyster data and recognized by NOAA for “Taking the Pulse of the Planet.”  In addition, she was a recipient of the 2016 SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Environmental Excellence Award. 

At Stanford OHS, Madison has founded and is leading the Pre-Veterinary Club in order to connect aspiring veterinarians and encourage conservation. In her free time, she regularly volunteers at a veterinary hospital where she assists in patient diagnosis/care and surgery.  Madison also interns at the Brevard Zoo as a zoo teen and conservation representative; she routinely handles exotic animals such as the Ball Python, Red Rat Snake and Northern Blue-Tounged Skink. She is constantly expanding the reach of her conservation message by speaking at numerous environmental events and writing conservation blogs.  Her work has been included in National Geographic's "Changing the World" blog, Brevard Zoo’s Youth Environmental Summit and GTM NERR’s “Friends of the Reserve” event.

Makayla Harris

Makayla H. 

Hometown: Winterville, North Carolina

Makayla is 17 years old, from Winterville, NC, and a senior from South Central High School.  Within her school, she is a member of National Honor Society (NHS) and she is a Lieutenant Colonel and Battalion Commander in JROTC.  For the past four years, she has played for her high school volleyball team and managed for the wrestling team.  In the community Makayla has served as a member of the Greenville City Youth Council, libero of a travel volleyball team (ECJVC), and a GenerationOn Kindness Ambassador and JoyMaker.  She is currently a Love A Sea Turtle (LAST) Student Advisory Board member, Holidays of Hope Coordinator, and 2017 US Cellular Future of Good recipient.  

Some interesting information about Makayla is that she is on her eighth year as a LAST Upstream Downstream summer camp counselor, met Jordyn Sparks, she is scuba certified, loves all animals, and a big sister to a four year old “baby” brother.  Makayla plans to attend a NC University majoring in a science related field to later pursue a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

Mariam Touni

Mariam T.

Hometown: Sunnyvale, California

Mariam is a junior at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, California and is honored to be part of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council. She has always had a love for Marine Biology and Astronomy since she was a child. Her love for science reveals itself from her constant visits to her local Aquarium, watching documentaries on marine life and astronomy, and going to the beach once a week during the summer. Mariam’s love for Culinary arts also shows from her experience in the kitchen and her new found love for Fashion Design after her first fashion show. Mariam is part of an organization called Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and is currently serving as their California State President. During her years in FCCLA, she has developed life lasting friendships and the courage to take on challenges, big and small. 

Mariam uses “Aspire to Inspire before you Expire” as a life goal in everything she does. Because of the inspiration she has gotten from family and friends, she hopes to inspire others that anything can be achieved with hard work and family. She loves Indie music, star gazing, and fun facts about anything.

Marie Harris

Marie H.

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

Marie recognized first-hand the necessity for people to advocate on behalf of the environment while volunteering at the Birmingham Zoo. It was there, surrounded by knowledgeable, passionate people from all different perspectives that she learned just how many issues existed that demand our attention, and just how far reaching environmental conservation efforts could be. She is particularly interested in the synergistic interaction between humans and the natural world, recognizing that to protect our planet we must start with us, and to protect us, we must first protect our planet. 

Often likened to the Lorax, Marie is double-majoring in Forestry and Chemistry with hopes of securing a career in Environmental Health research. 

Nicole Meimaris

Nicole M.

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Nicole is a Junior at Whitney M. Young High School located in Chicago, IL. Throughout high school, Nicole has continued to develop her interest in helping the environment. She is an active grant writer for a local nonprofit named Operation Endangered Species. Nicole is also the co-founder of an initiative at her school called “Hit the Lights”. This effort resulted in the gym of her high school to be remodeled with new, eco-friendly motion-sensor switches and LED lights. Lastly, Nicole is the President of the Ecology Club at her high school. This club tends to all of the exotic animals that her school owns. 

When Nicole isn’t engaged in activities that help the environment, she spends her free time playing piano, writing songs, and spending time with her family and friends. 

Owen Bachhuber

Owen B.

Hometown: Roseville, Minnesota

Owen, a senior at Roseville Area High School, is driven to increase the public’s interest in and concern for wildlife. Owen volunteered in Como Zoo’s Nature Walk interpretative program for 4 years, serving as a Day Captain for 3 of those years. As a Nature Walker, he educated visitors about Como’s animals. Last year, Owen recruited four of his peers to participate in the zoo’s Youth Engagement Program. The team focused on increasing awareness of recycling at their high school and promoting reusable water bottles. Owen now volunteers as an Aquarium Assistant, helping zookeeper's care for the zoo’s fish and other animals. He is an active member of the Minnesota Herpetological Society, having fostered over forty reptiles and finding homes for many. Owen has an extensive menagerie of his own which he uses to introduce the public to reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. He takes great satisfaction in helping others overcome their fears and begin to appreciate their connections with the natural world. Owen has given numerous animal presentations at his middle school and high school. 

To support his passion, Owen works at Twin Cities Reptiles where he enjoys helping customers select and care for their pets. Owen looks forward to attending college with a focus on wildlife biology and education. He hopes to make a career of caring for and educating people about animals and our shared earth.

Sophie Kalmin

Sophie K.

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Sophie is in the 8th grade and 14 years old of just a few weeks ago. Ever since her start in conservation, she’s been raising awareness for her favorite animal, rhinos, everywhere she can by handing out bracelets with the names of endangered animals on them. Her favorite way to raise money is also one of her favorite ways to pass time: baking! She started a website called before starting the process of raising over $10,000 for the Grevy's Zebra Trust in Kenya by having a bake sale at her house. Sophie is the Vice President of her school’s student council, is on the Athletic Leadership Committee l for being captain of several sports she played throughout her middle school years, including basketball and volleyball. She is also a participant in Model United Nations (MUN). 

Additionally, Sophie spent 2 weeks in Boston this summer and stayed at the Harvard Law School campus for a leadership summit with kids from all around the world. Sophie visited San Francisco this past October for the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Annual Expo and met several remarkable conservationists that she is modeling herself after more each day. 

Suma Moolaveesala

Suma M.

Hometown: Wayne, Pennsylvannia

Suma has always had a passion for the environment and for youth advocacy. She has been a volunteer for the Philadelphia Zoo since the summer of her freshman year of high school and has served thousands of guests by educating them about the power of conservation. Along with her work at the zoo, Suma also serves as President of the Teen Advisory Board for the Tredyffrin Library. She is the current president of her school's Speech and Debate Club as well as an editor for the yearbook. 

Suma also has a passion for business and politics which is exemplified by her participation in Model UN and her position as District Representative and PA State Officer of DECA. Not only was Suma the sophomore representative of her class for a leadership conference known as HOBY, she is a current member of A-Team and will help run this year’s conference. 

Tessa Brant

Tessa B. 

Hometown: Orlando, Florida

Tessa is currently attending the University of Central Florida. She’s majoring in Biology with a focus in marine science and zoology and minoring in Psychology and Chemistry. From a young age, Tessa’s family frequently went to SeaWorld, which cultivated her love for marine life. She started volunteering for the education department of the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet in the summer of 2015 and discovered a love for teaching others about marine life and conservation. Tessa was named the Sunshine State Scholar for Alachua County in 2016, due to her passion for conservation and commitment to STEM. 

Attending UCF has provided her with many new opportunities, including working with Canine Companions for Independence through the Service Dog Training and Education Program at UCF, which has contributed to her interest in animal training. She hopes to begin raising a service dog in the fall. Tessa ultimately plans to pursue a career in animal husbandry at an aquarium, hopefully working with marine mammals. 

Wilson Sherman

Wilson S.

Hometown: Santa Barbara, California

Wilson is a high school student in Santa Barbara, California. He is passionate about wildlife conservation, sustainable agriculture, community service, and media arts. He aspires to study animal science in college and work protecting wild animals and promoting sustainability. Starting in 6th grade with a campaign to ban single use bags, Wilson has had a passion for making the world a better place through organized action and community service. 

After completing more than 1,000 hours of community service with a variety of non profit groups throughout Santa Barbara County, Wilson has developed a rich and diverse set of skills in animal care, education, leadership, and media arts. He is involved with organizations including the Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History's Sea Center, Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute, Help One Walk International, Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, and the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. He recently led his classmates in a campaign to encourage sustainable electronic waste disposal, and he serves as a leader of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Teen Conservation Club.