Brower Youth Awards

Sonja Michaluk

Princeton, NJ

Encouraging Rigorous Citizen Science

Since joining her first freshwater bio-assessment team as an eager six-year-old, Sonja Michaluk, 18, has helped secure several big wins for aquatic environments, including the modification of a national natural gas pipeline project to minimize wetland disturbance and protecting over 50 acres of ecologically critical land in Central New Jersey.

These victories resulted from her work with the Conservation Communities Initiative, a project she founded in 2017 that encourages people to monitor and protect their local aquatic habitats and advocate for data-driven environmental decision making. The initiative runs a microbiology and genetics lab that facilitates use of a genetics-based bioassessment method that Michaluk developed, which can identify the presence of threatened, endangered, and nonnative species from trace biological samples.