For Leon Kolankiewicz (’77 B.S. in forestry and wildlife), it was both the university’s historical academic excellence as well as the beauty of the surrounding southwest Appalachian landscape that drew him to Virginia Tech. “In particular, I took tremendous advantage of the proximity of the Jefferson National Forest, Appalachian Trail, New River, and rock climbing opportunities,” he explained. “Indeed, I met my first-ever girlfriend on a work hike sponsored by the Virginia Tech Outing Club on the Appalachian Trail. How romantic is that?”

As an environmental planner and prolific writer, Kolankiewicz has a passion for the beauty and majesty of nature in his professional life as well. His résumé highlights time spent with organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Currently an environmental planner for the Mangi Environmental Group in McLean, Va., Kolankiewicz still finds time to promote environmental sustainability in print. He authored the books “Where the Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska’s Raincoat” and “Bright River, Dark Dreams: Tragedy on the Rio Plátano,” and recently contributed a chapter to “Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.”

There wasn’t a specific eureka moment that led Kolankiewicz to his career field. Instead, it was a culmination of many experiences beginning in his youth and spanning across the years, including playing in the woods surrounding his childhood home in western Pennsylvania, watching the Northern Lights, jogging along the shoreline on a Honduran beach, and seeing smoke rise from a volcano in the Aleutian Islands. But for every amazing physical experience in nature, conservation literature, such as Rachel Carson’s “The Edge of the Sea,” compounded his passion.

“All of these moments filled me with awe and gratitude and gave me a sense of purpose to dedicate my personal and professional life to doing my small part on behalf of preserving life on Earth — human and non-human alike,” he said.

Kolankiewicz continues to fuel his passion for writing. He blogs for the advocacy group Californians for Population Stabilization, exploring a wide variety of topics such as peak oil, coal mining, climate change, agriculture, wilderness, and the history of the environmental movement in America. At Mangi, he prepares environmental impact statements for the likes of NASA (post-space shuttle operations at the Kennedy Space Center), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (a proposed uranium mine in the Cibola National Forest of western New Mexico), and the North Texas Municipal Water District (a proposed water supply dam and reservoir).

“Embrace lifelong learning; it doesn’t stop with the receipt of your diploma,” Kolankiewicz advises alumni and students alike. “To quote a dear old friend of mine, the late wildlife biologist Fran Uhler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ‘With a little curiosity there is never a dull moment.’”