In every field—be it medicine, business, sports, the arts, etc.—someone has to lead the way. Emmi Chambers, while proud of a Redbird lineage that dates back three generations, has charted her own precedent-setting path as the first Illinois State University student to commit to the curriculum of the new environmental systems science and sustainability (ESSS) major. As she graduates, she is making another bit of history as a member of the University’s first cohort of ESSS graduates.

Starting out, her major wasn’t a sure thing until she visited the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment. It was there that she met Dr. Dagmar Budikova, professor and chair, and Jill Thomas, geography academic advisor.

“They told me about this new degree program in environmental systems sciences and sustainability,” Chambers said. “I was a general geography major for the first two years, and then my junior year it became my major. It’s been really, really awesome. I’ve done some cool things.”

Safe to say it’s been an active four years for Chambers. She has served as vice president of the Geography Club, where she volunteered for a number of environmental projects. She mentored fellow students in the Study Abroad Mentor Program and volunteered at the Horticulture Center. When all is said and done, she will also have earned two minors: economics and geography. But, it was a campus internship that may have brought the most satisfaction.

“I interned at the Office of Sustainability last summer in 2020 and worked on the task force that is developing a sustainability strategic plan,” Chambers said. “It’s really cool helping make ISU become more sustainable; that’s meant so much to me.”

A Presidential Scholar, she’s been honored as the commencement student speaker for the College of Arts and Sciences after being recommended by Associate Professor of Geography Dr. Matthew Himley. Chambers had been his student and his teaching assistant, and he had mentored her and knew well the quality of her work.

“Emmi is a really phenomenal student,” Himley said. “She’s an excellent representative for the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, and especially for our new major in environmental systems sciences and sustainability.”

Himley offered congratulations on behalf of his colleagues.

“We in the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment couldn’t be more proud of Emmi,” he said. “We wish her all the best in her postgraduate career, and we know she will go on to do interesting and important work.”

Chambers’ career interests include water resource conservation, sustainable agriculture, and environmental justice. She hopes to do work that helps protect the environment by taking on climate change’s effects on humans and ecosystems. Her plans include eventually attending graduate school but not before gaining some professional experience.

“Working will help define what I want to do, so when I do go to grad school I’ll be researching a topic I’m passionate about,” she said. “I’d like to combine environmental and social issues that help people and the planet. I want to combine social sciences and environmental sciences.”

Her interest in the planet was sparked at an early age tagging along to work with her mother, Jessica Chambers ’93, director of Illinois State’s Horticulture Center. The Chambers kids—Emmi and two younger brothers, Dylan, a sophomore at Illinois State and Johnny, a sophomore at U-High—spent a lot of quality time outdoors at Mom’s work.

“It was great, and it’s where my passion for the environment comes from,” Emmi Chambers said.

In addition to her mother, the family Redbird legacy includes two grandmothers: Maria (Sparks) Roberts Ph.D. ’81; and Wilma Chambers M.S. ’94; and great-grandmother, Joanna Sparks ’67, M.S. ’76.

“It means so much to be following in the footsteps of my mom, both my grandmothers, and one of my great-grandmothers,” Chambers said. “I’ve looked up to these women all my life. They graduated from ISU and went on to do amazing things. I’m honored to follow their legacies.”

Growing up in Normal attending Metcalf and U-High adds up to 11 years of education at Illinois State. Chambers said she will miss it and never forget the dedication of her professors. She feels a deep connection to the place where she said she’s grown so much.

“I have loved my time at ISU,” she said. “In many ways, it was my home long before I started as a student here four years ago, and I’m so sad to leave now. Leaving is absolutely bittersweet, but ISU will always have an important place in my heart.”

This story is part of a series of profiles on Redbirds who are graduating this May. For more information about how Illinois State is celebrating commencement this semester, visit the Graduation Services website.