Growing the Future: Conservancy of Southwest Florida opens Environmental Studies Dormitory

February 23, 2023

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida recently celebrated the opening of its Environmental Studies Dormitory, donated by Jeannie Meg and Christopher Byron Smith with support from friends of the Conservancy. 

Left to Right: John R. Walter (Board Chair), Jeannie Meg Smith, Christopher Byron Smith, Rob Moher (CEO)

The new Environmental Studies Dormitory will allow the Conservancy to grow its internship program by 20%.

Approximately 40 interns journey through the Conservancy’s various programs each year, working on campus and living in the student dormitory.

The Conservancy offers a broad range of internships, including environmental education opportunities, science exploration (including sea turtle research), Burmese python research, as well as in the von Arx Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital.

Rob Moher (CEO) speaks at the ribbon cutting ceremony

“As we compete for regional, national and global talent for conservation interns, this wonderful new facility puts the Conservancy on the cutting edge to be competitive in attracting the best candidates,” said Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“Through our internship program we are shaping the conservation leaders of the future, and we are grateful for the support of all the donors who made this possible. Our greatest gratitude goes to a very special couple, Jeannie and Christopher Smith, who passionately support our mission and gave the lead gift for the Environmental Studies Dormitory.”

“Long-time Conservancy supporters, the Smith family recognizes the impact of environmental studies on our mission and vital conservation work that takes place here every day, and this building is named in their honor.”

Rob Moher, CEO and President

President Moher shared with attendees the Conservancy’s thanks to over a dozen other key donors and foundations who contributed to the building’s construction. Moher noted in particular the support from The Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Foundation and The Martin Foundation who were early investors in the project, giving the Conservancy the needed confidence to move forward on this large project.

Conservancy Intern Kaylee Walper shared the significance of having on-site living in the dormitory. The education and animal husbandry intern from Illinois notes that rising housing costs would make it difficult for her to work and live here otherwise.

“The ability to live here for free makes this internship possible, and it has been valuable to have all the interns from the four different departments living together to inspire community as we can talk about our work, share advice and grow friendships.”

Kaylee Walper, Education Intern
Current Interns and generous donors

The new, state-of-the-art, hurricane-rated 15,000-square-foot building, designed by Parker Mudgett Smith Architects and built by Stevens Construction, showcases the Conservancy’s dedication to sustainability.

Stevens Construction

Features of the green building include all LED lighting, highly energy efficient design, extensive day lighting and electric vehicle charging stations. The Conservancy made a significant investment and installed “bird-strike prevention” windows, noting that millions of birds die every year as a result of flying into windows.

Additionally, installation of a full solar panel array on the roof will be completed this summer allowing the building to generate some of its own power needs.

“This environmental studies building is a shining example of the Conservancy’s continued investment into providing world-class facilities here at our nature center campus,” added Moher. “It will help strengthen our almost 60-year foundation for conservation by accommodating interns from across the country, and in some cases the world.” 

The interns are expected to start moving in by early spring.