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By Cinnamon Moore

Ashita Gona

For many, finding a perfect career isn’t always straightforward. When Ashita Gona graduated from 2016 with a degree in journalism and was considering her career options, she thought it would be impossible to find anything that would match her two passions in life: writing and the environment. It wasn’t until several opportunities came her way, as well as encouragement from a UNC mentor, that she realized she really could obtain her dream and become an environmental journalist.

“I think the thing about the environment, and the thing that people don’t think about dealing with the environment, is that it’s connected to everything,” she said. “It’s connected to human health, it’s connected to technology, it’s connected to resources. I mean it’s literally part of everything. If there’s one shift in something in the environment, it can have a very direct impact on something else and that in turn can impact humans. I don’t think people think about the environment in that way. I think they think of it as very separate from other things, but it’s really not.”

Her love for nature began at an early age. From chasing butterflies to an unrelenting curiosity about animals and science, she remained fascinated by the world around her all of her life.

But her passion for writing inspired her pursuit of a career as a journalist, and during her early college years, she feared she would have to choose between writing and a profession in environmental activism.

“Environmental writing is not a particularly big field,” she said.

However, with the help of her mentor, Sara Peach, a professor at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, she was able to find internships that combined her two passions and navigate the insecurities of becoming a budding journalist.

After Gona landed her first two internships with the White House Council for Environmental Quality and the UNC Office of Research Communications, she began finding the confidence that she could achieve her niche career.

“I guess recently I’ve been realizing there are opportunities out there that allow me to combine these interests. You just have to really search for them,” she laughed.

Her optimism and pursuance led her to her current internship, which recently extended to a yearlong fellowship, with the Coastal Review Online (CRO), a news organization dedicated to environmental issues.

During her workdays, Gona spends her time not in an office, but in the field undertaking hands-on learning. Her favorite story she’s covered so far was on the new executive director of the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter.

“I got to go to the shelter and interview her, and in the process I got to see all of these animals. I guess one of the good things about this position is, I get to go out in the field and just learn about things,” she explained. “I don’t have to just sit in my office and type away all day.”

Gona decided to remain with CRO for another year to extend what she considers her training period. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot in regards to my writing, in regards to how to talk about environmental issues, and I also just wasn’t aware that the coast was such a complicated place for environmental issues. So I’ve just been learning. I feel like I learn every day. If I’m being honest,  multiple things every day,” she said.

After her fellowship ends in May 2017, Ashita admitted that she doesn’t have a concrete plan for her next move but maintains an optimistic outlook for her future.

“I’m honestly just trying to take it one month at a time because one thing I’ve realized about graduating is that it’s very overwhelming to think about the long term, because you’re just trying to figure out what’s going to happen tomorrow or after your next gig. So, I don’t like to give myself deadlines like in 10 years, you’ll be here because what if I find something else I enjoy? I don’t know. It’s pretty fun though, she said.

However, journalism and the environment will always remain at focal point of her life.

“I just hope that within the next five years to a decade, through things like journalism and better communications of environmental issue, the United States and the whole world can appreciate the environment better. And I do think that communications in journalism will play a big roll in that. How we write about these ideas, how we report them, how we market them. I just really hope that that happens. I do feel that writing and media play a big role in that. So I’m happy to be a part of it,” she said.

Sometimes the path ahead isn’t straight and it isn’t certain. However, Gona realized that by committing herself to improving the world around her and following her passion, she will find happiness.

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