Hasta La Próxima, Iza

14 January 2022
Written by Melissa Halvorsen, Education and Outreach Director

Unlike so many people that work in the natural sciences, Elizabeth “Iza” Schwartz (they/them) doesn’t have childhood memories of family time in campgrounds and forest trails. Raised in the heart of Chicago, Iza was a true city kid. That all changed after taking an ecology course at Prescott College in Arizona. After a transformative experience with place-based learning and natural history, Iza promptly changed their major from art to environmental studies. 

Iza first joined HawkWatch International (HWI) in 2017 as part of a seasonal migration crew at Bonney Butte HawkWatch and went on to do more fieldwork with the organization in 2018 including Golden Eagle nest surveys and another migration season at the Manzanos Mountains. When an educator position opened up in 2019, HWI leaped at the opportunity to bring Iza on full-time.

IMG 4692It was my privilege to work with Iza for the past two years as the Education and Outreach Director. I had no idea in that first interview for the job how much I would come to rely on the tiny, scrappy, fireball of a person that grilled me with questions about diversity and inclusion. Iza took me under their proverbial wing from the very beginning, helping to orient me to the way things worked at HWI and gently pointing out the things that could probably be done a little better. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide.

Iza was a fantastic educator. Their passion for ecology, natural history, and equitable access to environmental education made them naturally charismatic and compelling. While Iza could charm any audience, they were especially impactful with high school students. Iza treated students with respect and an expectation that they would reciprocate. It was amazing to see the most sullen teen raise to meet those expectations because they felt seen when Iza was in front of them. 

Iza applied their commitment to high-quality work to everything they did at HWI. We owe Iza, a queer Latinx person, a huge debt for opening the eyes of many at the organization to the challenges faced by minorities that want to work in this field. Iza was a key member of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee and laid much of the groundwork for the things we hope to implement in this area. 

We will all miss Iza, but I think it’s fair to say that no one will miss them as much as I will. In addition to being a model employee (I mentally measure my work to the “Iza Standard,”), Iza is a wonderful friend that truly helped me become a better person. I know I speak for all of us at HWI when I say, “Hasta la próxima, Iza. Cuídate.” Until next time, take care.