WaterStar: Mackenzie Hayes
17-year-old Mackenzie Hayes, the new Water Conservation Education Intern for the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, hadn’t known much about water education until she saw the job description through a work-based learning program at her school in Athens, Georgia. The opportunity to hone her skills in graphic design, communication, and leadership piqued her interest, leading to an exciting opportunity to learn more about the water industry.
Like many Gen Z teens, Mackenzie is concerned about the environment. “Wanting to know where the water I drank came from drew my interest at a young age,” she recalls. She elected to take an environmental science course at her high school, where one lesson focused on the relationship between water resources and animal life. Still, she believes young people can benefit from more access to water education. “I don’t think that Gen Z has a high awareness of water resources because it is not really talked about in our everyday life. So we tend to take advantage of the water we do have, like most of us do, without knowing it,” Mackenzie says.
Social media is one tool teens can use to raise awareness about environmental issues. “Teens can advocate for water using Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook, which can be shared by their friends to get the message on water and the environment out in the world,” says Mackenzie. She also encourages her peers to talk about water with their siblings, parents, and friends.
Mackenzie is already learning a lot in her new position and has big dreams for the future. She plans to attend Georgia Southern University in the fall, majoring in graphic design and minoring in public relations. Her experience as the Water Conservation Education Intern has shown her the vast opportunities within the water industry, even beyond the STEM field. She has already designed a magazine ad for the water department, social media posts, and printed materials for customers. She hopes to work in marketing and public relations someday, and now she sees the need for those skills in the water space as well as other industries.
The water department appreciates the extra help this year, as communication needs have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Water Conservation Program Education Specialist Jackie Sherry says, “This year has been interesting, trying to still communicate with the public and with students, and still get our message out there.” In addition to her graphic design work, Mackenzie has helped create activity kits that enable local students to complete Project WET’s H2Olympics activity at home.
Mackenzie offers this advice to other teens who are interested in water issues: “The water industry has a lot more to it than you’d think. I like it now that I’ve been in it. I appreciate having water and knowing that water is actually cool to learn about. There are different departments that go into the process of how everything is done. If there is a club or an event related to water and the environment, you should join it.”
Do you know a WaterStar? We want to share the stories of people making waves in water education! Email kyla.tengdin [at] projectwet.org to nominate someone.