As a child, Amelia Schmidt sat at the kitchen table after dinner with her father, watching him draw comics. She pulled out her own paper and pencils, tracing illustrations that laid an artistic foundation that followed her to Virginia Tech.  

Now a sophomore in the College of Agriculture of Life Sciences Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences with a dual degree in wildlife conservation, Schmidt used her artistic background in a unique project: illustrating, writing, and publishing a children's book on the importance of preserving the environment and of teamwork for a class in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.

“Everyone needs to work in their niche, and all the niches need to cooperate to make the whole ecosystem viable and sustainable,” said Schmidt of Fairfax County, Virginia. “I think that teamwork is very applicable to today's society because a lot of the issues we're facing right now can't be solved alone. Everyone needs to work together to create a solution. I tried to portray those undertones throughout the book.”

In “Henry Helps Brackish Bay,” the main protagonist of the story, Henry, a horseshoe crab, sets off on a journey to find out why Brackish Bay’s population is sick. Detective work takes the crab around the bay and to the beach, where he learns that plastic causes the sickness. Together, the bay community distributed flyers on recycling to help manage pollution and improve their health.  

As a student in the Honors College, Schmidt is required to take some courses at an advanced level, which means an extra project in addition to normal coursework. These projects are typically research-oriented and involve presenting at a conference.

The instructors for Schmidt’s course, Communicating Agriculture in Writing, pushed her to be more creative and to do something out of the ordinary. Inspired by the James Park Ecological Preserve that she visited in Delaware and the many horseshoe crabs there, Schmidt wanted to teach younger and older audiences alike on how conservation is important for a sustainable ecosystem, now, and in the future.

Balancing that writing to appeal to a wide range of audiences was a challenge, but something her two course instructors Jama Coartney and Nicole Nunoo – both graduate students in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education – helped manage.

“For younger audiences, you need to write in a certain way, especially in books with illustrations,” Nunoo said. “She needed to vary her writing, use good processes, and be grammatically sound. We covered all of this in the class, and she incorporated everything into the book.”

Due to COVID-19, the trio collaborated virtually during the editing process, going word-by-word to ensure that each page resonated with the target audience, a major focus of the course. As the editing process continued, Coartney floated an idea to Schmidt: publishing the book.

“She had an opportunity to become a published author, which is great on a résumé,” Coartney said. “She was well beyond the point of getting credit on the project, and we thought publishing would add more weight to the content she wrote.”

After some encouragement, Schmidt used Amazon Kindle Publishing for “Henry Helps Brackish Bay” and decided to donate the proceeds to the James Park Ecological Preserve.

“The purpose of my book isn’t to make money. It’s to help the environment,” Schmidt said. “I couldn’t think of a better thing to do than to donate and match the proceeds to my source of inspiration.”