SAFE Student Spotlight: Erika Hernandez '23

Erika Hernandez '23
Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund Recipient: Spring 2023

Project: "Watauga County Spring BioBlitz: Raising Awareness of Local Biodiversity in the Community"

Hernandez received a Spring 2023 Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) grant to spread the word about the inaugural Watauga County BioBlitz. The goal of the event was to upload as many observations of species of plants, animals, and fungi as possible to the iNaturalist website between April 1 and 30, 2023.

Hernandez, the Watauga County BioBlitz organizer, used the funding to create a public display at the Watauga County Public Library featuring wildlife plush animals and signs to demonstrate a realistic ecosystem that can be found in Watauga County. "This gave the project more publicity, and encouraged people of all ages to stop, observe, and read all about the community event. I was also able to create customized buttons to ensure a memorable 'souvenir' for the county event, which many people loved," explained Hernandez.

Throughout the month of April, Hernandez worked to spread the word about why individuals should participate in the event. "This was done by word of mouth, through social media, and creating a public display at the public library to ensure they are aware of the event. The funding for this project allowed me to strengthen my networking skills, especially through the public display," said Hernandez.

After the BioBlitz, Hernandez assembled a loaner box for kindergarten through second grade classrooms using the items purchased for the project. The box features a variety of hands-on activities that can be used to teach students about the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Hernandez graduated from Appalachian State in May 2023 with her bachelor's degree in environmental science. Following graduation, she applied her outreach skills as an environmental educator with the YMCA in King, where she facilitated hands-on programming and program development.


About the SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at:

About the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Located in Western North Carolina, Appalachian State University provides the perfect setting to study geological and environmental sciences. The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences provides students with a solid foundation on which to prepare for graduate school or build successful careers as scientists, consultants and secondary education teachers. The department offers six degree options in geology and two degree options in environmental science. Learn more at

Written by Madison Breedlove
Edited by Lauren Gibbs

February 27, 2024

Erika Hernandez '23
Published: Feb 27, 2024 8:45am