Conserve Wildlife Blog

Species On The Edge 2.0 Contest Winners Honored In Live-streamed Virtual Awards Ceremony

June 29th, 2020

by Morgan Mark, CWF Intern

Virtual award ceremony participants from left to right: (top row) CWF Executive Director David Wheeler, PSEG Foundation Chairman Rick Thigpen, CWF Director of Education Stephanie DAlessio, Third Place Winner Lauren Johnson, First Place Winner Virginia Higgins, and Second Place Winner Rory Leadbeater

If you browse through social media, you will find some incredibly creative and effective ways to help imperiled wildlife. You might be compelled by calls-to-action, experience stunning photographs, or may even discover posts about New Jersey’s vulnerable species that—thanks to talented New Jersey high schoolers—got their share of screen time, likes, and retweets during the Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s (CWF) fifth annual Species on the Edge 2.0 Social Media contest.

One of the winning Instagram posts by Virginia Higgins, highlighting the diets of Piping Plovers.

Over the course of 8 days, hundreds of students from across the state created Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts about animals that the CWF protects. Through campaigns that featured original artwork, photos, and infographics, contestants took the internet by storm, rose awareness about their chosen species, and garnered nearly 12,000 likes. 

The three finalists were celebrated on June 18 in a Facebook Live virtual awards ceremony. The PSEG Foundation sponsored the contest and provided scholarships to the winners.

“I am so proud to hear that there are so many young people who have taken up the challenge—who are coming up with their own thoughts and strategies on how we can best conserve wildlife,” said Rick Thigpen, Senior Vice President of Corporate Citizenship for the PSEG Corporation and the Chairman for the PSEG Foundation. “I want to thank all of you for paying attention to our environment and to how we can make our behavior and businesses more sustainable.”

First place winner, Virginia Higgins from Arthur P. Schalick High School in Pittsgrove, used art to paint pictures of the piping plover’s diet, lifecycle, habitat, and threats. Rory Leadbeater from Toms River High School North won second place with her multimedia content about the horseshoe crab’s history, anatomy, and lifecycle. Sparta High School senior Lauren Johnson, who also advocated for the piping plover, took third place for her engaging graphics.

“By participating in the Species on the Edge contest, I’ve learned a lot, definitely some things I didn’t know before. I didn’t know what a piping plover was until I started researching and posting about it on social media,” said Johnson. “I think that the whole contest was a great way to spread awareness for the conservation of our endangered species.”

Encouraging students to use the tools at their disposal to educate not only themselves, but the people around them is the ultimate goal of the Species on the Edge 2.0 Social Media Contest. By combining their passions for wildlife, art, and social media, we can all learn to have a greater appreciation for New Jersey’s defining species.

“It is so inspiring that even in these incredibly challenging times, events like this capture why we still can have a spirit of optimism: it brings together corporate leadership and students in the next generation, ” said David Wheeler, Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation. “We designed this contest in hopes of meeting this generation where their interest and expertise are already off the charts, and, in a sense, helping us be led by them into the future.”

For more information about CWF’s education programs like this one, visit

Thank you to PSEG Foundation for sponsoring the Species on the Edge 2.0 Social Media Contest.

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