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Undergraduate Student

Ilia Donner


Expected Graduation Date: May 2015

My siblings and I grew up in an orphanage in Vorkuta, Russia. Vorkuta’s northern latitude made the winters dark and the summers short and cold. Although Vorkuta may not have been the best place to grow up, we had nothing to compare it to, thus we thought it was normal. The winters of the Arctic Circle taught us to admire the raw power of the natural world, especially the concept of wearing layers! We looked up at the Aurora Borealis during the longest nights of winter and admired the bright stars speckled between. My three siblings and I were adopted and moved to a small 35-acre farm located in the Upper Shenandoah Valley. The comfort of temperate weather allowed us to enjoy spending the afternoons exploring. It took several summers to acclimate to humid, hot summers of Virginia, but it did not take long for me to love and cherish the natural world around me. I chose to go to Virginia Tech and study in the College of Natural Resources and Environment because of my interest in natural resources. Stargazing as a child and my childhood on our small Virginia farm contributed greatly to my passion for this field.

Virginia Tech’s forestry program has influenced and inspired me to become a natural resources professional who reveres the natural world and kindles other peoples’ interest in natural resources. I hope to make a difference in the conservation of natural resources by teaching others the importance of the natural world to their livelihoods. The only reason I am here today is because of someone else, someone who has taught me, someone who has been kind, someone who cares about others. I would like to pass on what I know, and I hope that I can inspire people the way others have inspired me.

I applied to the Leadership Institute because I would like to work with like-minded individuals, people who share a passion for natural resources. As part of my college experience, the Leadership Institute will also help me to advance my leadership skills. I look forward to working with my peers on a philanthropic project and learning more about working on a productive and successful team. I am honored to be part of a small, distinguished, like-minded group of young people, and I know I will gain much from the experience.

Honors and Awards

  • John Hosner Scholarship (2011-12)
  • Victor W. Stewart Scholarship (2013-15)
  • Dean’s List, spring 2013

25th Anniversary

Celebrating 25 Years

    1992 through 2017, 25 years

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