Talking for the setting conjures up presidential scholar Elle Shirah – Georgia State College Information

“The state of Georgia chose me.”

This is how Presidential Scholar Elle Shirah explains her college decision.

“I fell in love with the school during the application process,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine a better fit between the campus, the environmental science course and the diverse student body.”

Before entering the university’s Honors College, Shirah attended Southeast Whitfield High School in Dalton, Georgia, where her family has lived for generations. She was active with DECA, Mock Trial, Key Club and the Raider Ambassadors. In the absence of a club dedicated to environmental endeavors, Shirah participated in administration and cleaning as a senior class officer as part of the Adopt-a-Mile program.

Still, she knew she wanted to leave a more important legacy to her high school, and a long-ignored space around the school’s pond and tennis courts gave her the idea. With the help of her favorite teacher, Shirah secured a school beautification grant from the Dalton-Whitfield Waste Authority to help turn the old space into a natural garden – an initiative they called Pollinator Picnics. Shirah coordinated all efforts, including recruiting school clubs and local businesses, to attend a service day to clean up the area and plant native species.

Elle Shirah is part of the University Assistantship Program (UAP) in Earth Sciences.

“My hope is that future students can use the space to learn about the environment and how we humans can be a positive influence,” she said of the garden that has become a focus for science classes in Southeast Whitfield .

Now Shirah is part of the University Assistantship Program (UAP) in Earth Sciences, Support with snail and snail research. It’s work she proudly presented at the Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference. She views the UAP as a “rite of initiation” and is grateful for how this opportunity shaped her college experience.

Her studies focus on environmental science, but she leaves the path to environmental law open. She can envision working on national politics to be more influential.

“The deterioration of our environment is the most pressing problem of my generation,” she said. “Ultimately, I want to find a way to be a voice for the environment on a global level.”

To learn more about the Presidential Scholarship, the Georgia State’s most prestigious and valuable academic award, visit

Story by Boyd Baker, photos by Meg Buscema