5 Undergraduates Receive Doris Duke Conservation Scholarships

Doris Duke Conservation Scholar Olivia Won ’18 is interested in addressing issues of climate justice by reorienting environmental action to work through a place-based, social justice lens.

Doris Duke Conservation Scholar Olivia Won ’18 is interested in addressing issues of climate justice by reorienting environmental action to work through a place-based, social justice lens.

In April, the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program presented scholarships to five Wesleyan undergraduate students. As Doris Duke Scholars, Olivia Won ’18, Emily Murphy ’18, Ryan Nelson ’19, Gabby Vargas ’18 and Kelly Lam ’19 will receive two summer experiential learning and research opportunities at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation initiated the Conservation Scholars programs at several universities across the country in 2013 with the intention of attracting and training members of under-represented communities in the field of conservation. Over the course of their two years in the program, the scholars will work right alongside conservation professional and researchers that will serve as mentors.

“More than ever, the conservation field needs to increase its efforts to attract, train and employ individuals from communities that today are largely absent from the conservation workforce,” said Andrew Bowman, program director of the environment program at DDCF. “The program will serve students who not only have a budding academic interest in conservation, but are also committed to increasing the diversity of students and professionals in the conservation field.”

One of the five students, Olivia Won ’18 will attend the Doris Duke Conservation Program at the University of Washington. This particular program focuses on the themes of biodiversity, food, climate, and water across urban and wild spaces.

“Most of my work in and outside of the classroom seeks to confront and combat the climate crisis, so I think these next two summers in Washington will be incredibly illuminating and inspiring,” Won said. “To me, ‘conservation’ means more than just preserving natural spaces for outdoorsy people to hike in. I believe that conservation efforts must be community-based, because all communities have a fundamental right to a clean, healthy environment and should have a recognized voice in determining the fate of the natural world. Meaningful and long lasting change for the better comes from the bottom up and we need to create a conservation method that prioritizes the interests of affected communities and empowers them to feel a sense of stewardship and pride with regards to the environment.”

This summer, Won will complete fieldwork in the urban, rural and wild spaces near the University of Washington. These sites include North Cascades National Park, the Stephen Mather Wilderness, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Mount Rainier National Park.

During the summer of 2017, Won and fellow scholars will spearhead their own projects by assembling into teams of two to four, each with a faculty mentor for academic support and a professional mentor that will link the team with a sponsoring NGO. Some examples of these projects include Bat Conservation Across the U.S., Sustainable bio-fuels in the U.S. and Wolf Recovery in the Pacific Northwest.

The other four Wesleyan undergraduates, Murphy, Nelson, Vargas and Lam, will participate in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Michigan. In total, Wesleyan undergraduates will make up one fifth of the U of M program’s 2016 scholars.

At Michigan, scholars will undertake a combination of research in sustainability, agroforestry, environmental justice, political ecology, ecosystem processes, aquaculture systems, forest ecology, and geospatial analysis. Like its cousin at the University of Washington, this first year also involves fieldwork in the areas surrounding the university.

In the second year, the scholars will complete a seven week internship with either an environmental or conservation NGO or with a governmental agency in Ann Arbor and the Detroit metropolitan area.

All five scholars are encouraged to apply what they learn at Wesleyan.

“Hopefully I can take the skills learned in this program and bring them back to the Wesleyan community by pushing the university to divest from fossil fuels and to collaborate with the Middletown to preserve Connecticut greenspace and remediate soils,” Won said.

Wesleyan students Kai Blatt ’17 and Joseph Eusebio ’17 are current Doris Duke Conservation Scholars.