Daring to Dream: A Metamorphosis
The sun was setting over a little Stow neighborhood in 1995. Eight-year-old Jennifer Daring knew it meant she would have to go inside soon. That was her mother’s rule: be home by dusk.
But Daring was always pushing it. Just a little later. Just a little more time. Just a few more minutes outside to catch the lightning bugs dotting her grandma’s front yard at dusk. Just a second more to collect caterpillars and watch them become something new.
For Daring, outside felt like home. And some things never change.
At 34, Daring is still always outside – hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking. And, in May, she will earn her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies with minors in biological science and geography from Kent State University at Stark, which will put her right where she wants to be.
But, getting here took some time. Like the caterpillars she found as a curious little girl, Daring would go through a metamorphosis, too.
From caterpillar to cocoon
Daring graduated from Stow-Munroe Falls High School in 2005 with little interest in following her peers to college.
Having bounced around a lot as a kid – from low-income housing in a single-parent household with her mom and brother, to living with her grandma, to moving to a home in Munroe Falls, to moving back in with grandma, then to an apartment – what she wanted in life was some stability.
Daring worked in the service industry for several years before making the decision to go to college.
“I decided after being a bartender for five or six years at that point, that, you know, you can’t retire off of a bartender’s salary,” said Daring. “It really kind of put things into perspective for me, and so I decided it wasn’t too late.”
In 2016, she started her collegiate journey at Stark State College to earn an associate degree and, soon after, Daring decided to take it a step further and work toward her bachelor’s degree at Kent State Stark.
Inside the chrysalis
When asked what inspired her to go into environmental studies, one of Kent State Stark’s newest degree programs at the time, Daring didn’t hesitate.
“Bill Nye the Science Guy,” she said, smiling.
As a little girl, Daring watched in awe from her elementary school classes and on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) at home, as Nye explained, well, everything, it seemed.
“That’s what I grew up with,” she said. “It’s what made me love science. It’s what made me love the outdoors and learning about things and how they work and protecting them.”
So, she dove into the world of environmental studies and hasn’t looked back since. She took classes in geology, entomology, biology, geography – and flourished in the presence of Stark Campus faculty who truly care.
“The connection that you have with the professors here is just so wholesome,” said Daring, mentioning Dr. Chris Post, Dr. Matthew Lehnert, Dr. Robert Hamilton, Dr. Gordon Cromley and Dr. Greg Smith by name. “You can tell they take their time and want to help you succeed. It’s very clear.”
In 2019, Daring began at Summit Metro Parks as an outreach program assistant. In the position that counted as an internship and credit toward her degree, she planned and facilitated her own nature programs for the public, leading themed hikes that focused on trash cleanup, bird-watching and health. She worked with children in the after-school Nature Club, and even had the opportunity to work with the Conservation Department surveying bats, trees and beehives.
Even when the position ended, she stuck with it.
“My seasonal position had expired, but I maintained my relationship with (the Metro Parks) through being a volunteer,” she said. “So, I stayed consistent with them and kept my foot in that door so they didn’t forget about me.”
And they wouldn’t.
Stretching her new wings
In addition to her work with Summit Metro Parks, Daring took the helm of the Northeast Ohio women’s adventure group, Green Girl Gang, at the beginning of 2020.
“I really get to unite women of like-minded interests all together,” said Daring. “We do anything from rock climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, trash cleanups – pretty much anything outdoorsy.”
When Daring was challenged in her Integrative Senior Project course to act on environmental awareness, she quickly remembered Summit Lake – a “forgotten hidden gem of Akron” as she called it – a place she didn’t know existed until she worked at Summit Metro Parks.
“It’s in a more low-income neighborhood and it’s very divided and slightly segregated,” she explained. “The east side of the lake is predominantly black families, and the west side of the lake is predominantly white families who live in homes versus the east side, which is low-income housing. It just so happens that the way that the wind and the water currents flow, all the trash is on the east side, so it makes them look bad, making it seem like they don’t care about their area, but that’s just where the trash ends up. There’s a lack of resources there, so I took it upon myself after having worked there for so long that I was going to initiate cleanups. I’ve stuck with it ever since.”
Green Girl Gang’s Summit Lake clean-up was sponsored by the brewery where Daring works, Missing Mountain Brewing Company, and Keep Akron Beautiful – both of which donated project supplies. Daring has worked to collect and weigh all the trash pulled out of the Lake and gather all of the data to put toward her senior project.
Knowing that Summit Lake needed a positive media spotlight, Daring was thrilled when WEWS News 5 Cleveland found the Green Girl Gang on Instagram and asked to cover the project. Daring herself was interviewed.
Ready to fly
On May 14, after five years, Daring will finally spread her wings. She will be the first in her family to graduate from college – a feat she is extremely proud of after being a full-time student working two to three jobs.
She also earned the departmental award for environmental studies, an honor given to her by her professors.
“It adds a piece of completion to my life, and I’m like ‘Yes! I did that!’ I’m an adult college student, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she explained. “It feels good.”
After graduation, she will return to Summit Metro Parks, this time for her dream job as a seasonal park biologist in the Conservation Department. After a required 90-day hiatus, Daring will be rehired to the position for the winter season.
“I am beyond stoked to work at this place, she said. “It’s the department I want to work in. I’m doing the things I want to do. And I’m meeting people I want to meet.”
And if that’s not enough for major life changes, Daring just bought a house. Her grandma’s house, in fact. A place that, other than Daring’s beloved great outdoors, feels like home.
As expected, this new homeowner plans to practice what she preaches to help the environment – wherever and whenever.
“I use bees wrap instead of plastic wrap. I use reusable Ziploc bags instead of disposable ones. I use paper bags instead of plastic bags. I use reusable straws, reusable utensils, reusable shopping bags. I try to make sure the lights are off when no one’s in the room,” she said. “I’ll have composting outside at home. I’ll have my rain barrels to help water my gardens.”
When the sun sets over the little Stow neighborhood, she’ll have all the time she wants to chase the lightning bugs that dot the night sky, or scoop up caterpillars that are ready for the next leg of the journey. It’s one that requires a little bit of time, but, as Daring knows, it is worth the effort:
She’s ready to fly.
Jennifer Daring featured on WEWS News.