Meet Our Students

Margot Bolanos wanted to get involved with The Woods Project because she wanted to learn what camping, hiking and backpacking felt like.  She saw the upperclassmen at Cristo Rey bonding through the program and thought “what better way to create friendships than through discovering nature at its purest form, not just in images or in the documentaries my mom and I watched.”

Beginning with weekend trips her freshman year, Margot experienced so many firsts with The Woods Project. Many expected with outdoor experiences, such as the Leave No Trace principles, catching a fish, and camping skills. But, it was the unexpected things that Margot will hold onto forever – “The personal growth I developed in the Sierra Nevadas was definitely unexpected! The trip made me realize my our strength, intellectually as I relied on the gear in my backpack and our map to guide us through the woods. And the physical strength that allowed me to hike to a mountain top and the many miles needed to get to our destination each day.”

The Woods Project was my eye-opener to the endless boundaries of the world, as well as the grit that is part of the human spirit.  This concept I have truly taken to heart and has inspired me to pursue an Environmental Science and International Relations studies at the University of Chicago.

Davion Zeno first got involved with The Woods Project as a sophomore at Heights High School, when he decided to push himself beyond his comfort zone and embark on his first hiking trip. His fondest memory is admiring the views of Lake Tahoe after spending an entire day summiting Mount Tallac in Donner Pass. “If I could do this,” he remembers thinking, “I can do anything.”

Davion “catapulted off” this experience, taking on many more trips and eventually becoming president of The Woods Project club at his school. It was also through The Woods Project that he was nominated for the Posse Scholarship, a pre-collegiate training model that seeks to identify individuals with extraordinary leadership potential. Davion graduated from the University of Virginia in 2021. “The Woods Project got me really inspired about the environment,” he says. “It really became a passion.” Now that he has completed his undergraduate studies, Davion is now considering pursuing a law degree, with aspirations in the fields of business, politics, law, or entertainment. Whatever path he chooses, Davion is resolved to spreading good throughout the world. “My biggest goal in life is to bring about systemic change. I want to give back to people who have been disenfranchised and marginalized. The greatest thing about The Woods Project is that you really get a chance to open your eyes to many different avenues of how to become what you want to become.”

Emmanuel “Manny” Salas graduated from Colby College as a Posse Scholar in 2021 with a major in Geology and minors in Computer Science and Environmental Studies. He is currently conducting research on deforestation within protected areas of the Amazon Rainforest, identifying hot-spots and leading causes of forest change.  Manny recalls, “Throughout the years, I have heavily relied on the traits and abilities that are the focus of TWP programming. As a low-income student of color attending a private and predominately white and institution located in central Maine, I was in an entirely different environment that what I was used to. While there, I began to explore topics of racism, inequality, mental health, and many others, that I normally would have difficulty discussing. These hard topics were never something I read from a textbook, but ones that had real-life experiences tied to them. As I grew as an individual, I relied more on my adaptability, social intelligence, and critical thinking. Additionally, my independence, curiosity, and environmental awareness grew as I learned more and more about threats to the environment and what I could personally do about it. But most importantly, the ability that I relied on the most was grit and perseverance. College was some of the most difficult and challenging years of my life. After experiencing culture shock, failure, rejection, grief, and mental health challenges, I never gave up or admitted defeat. Looking towards the future, I hope to keep these abilities with me no matter what my next step in life will be.