At age 11, standing on the edge of Paris Mountain in Greenville, South Carolina, I experienced an entirely new world that changed my life forever. My aunt and uncle have a house on top of this mountain, and my family has a tradition of both visiting here on Thanksgiving Day and making more spontaneous day trips throughout the year. Our story begins on one of these short trips during the spring.

My aunt and uncle have no ordinary backyard; their property is teeming with wildlife that is attracted to the trees, flowers, shrubs, water features, feeders, nesting boxes, and garden within in. Also lining the property are clusters of solar panels and rainwater catchment systems, both of which are a testament to my uncle's interest in environmental stewardship and survival.

Looking out from any part of the back of the home is a breathtaking view of the entire city of Greenville and other mountains in the distance. I always took a liking for this beautiful backyard scene, and for as long as I can remember, I would spend a considerable amount of time outside playing and exploring.

My uncle must have seen my curiosity for the outdoors early on. Although his official profession was in the field of dentistry, he spent a great portion of his time in nature taking photos and hiking. In fact, his whole office was filled with framed photographs of all the different places he had visited over the years. He must have seen my love for nature as well because, for Christmas in 2010, he gave me my first field guide, pair of binoculars, and Canon 20D digital camera. Needless to say, this gift would be one of the most treasured ones I would ever receive.

Fast forward to that fated spring day: I arrived at Paris Mountain with all my new gear and lots of excitement to check out the backyard again; this time, though, it was different because my uncle came with me to teach me about the things I had already grown to adore.

My uncle and I spent the entire afternoon together identifying native plants with my guidebook and checking out the city of Greenville through my binoculars. At last, evening time came and it was time to watch the birds feeder. I had watched the birds from the deck at their house plenty of times, but I didn't have the reference book and binoculars to really see what they were doing.

Naming bird after bird with my uncle and seeing firsthand how fascinating they were changed my perspective about nature as a whole; it was as though the love I had always felt towards the environment was awakened through this single spring evening.

That following summer, I started bird watching and became more interested in how to improve the quality of life for birds in suburban areas. I went to a camp based entirely on learning more about our feathered friends and won a sustainable gingerbread house competition around Christmas time by composing a house completely out of bird treats. At age 13, I reconstructed my backyard to include a multi-tier seed feeder, hummingbird nectar feeder, and a birdhouse.

Over the years, I've become more and more interested in the field of ornithology (the study of birds) and have dedicated much of my time supporting organizations like the Audubon Society.

Upon arriving at the University of Georgia, I knew that I wanted to take my passion for being outdoors and interest in birds and apply it to my future career path. Currently, I am studying landscape architecture at UGA's College of Environment and Design and have loved the program so far. My dream in the future is to design neighborhoods in a way that supports both birds and other native wildlife while simultaneously catering to the needs of homeowners.

I truly hope that one day in the future I will be able to give back to a world that has given so much to me. Over time, I've learned that it's small moments like watching birds with my uncle that can completely change your life; all you have to do is keep your mind and heart open to the passions that have been there all along.