Laura Berry ’17 and Matthew Kennedy ’18 are 2016 Udall Scholars.Laura Berry ’17 and Matthew Kennedy ’18 are 2016 Udall Scholars.

Berry and Kennedy are among just 60 students nationally, from 49 colleges and universities, to be selected as 2016 Udall Scholars. They were chosen by a 15-member independent review committee on the basis of their commitment to careers in the environment.

The highly qualified class of Udall Scholars was selected from 482 candidates nominated by 227 colleges and universities. Each scholarship provides up to $7,000 for the Scholar’s junior or senior year. Since the first awards in 1996, the Udall Foundation has awarded 1,524 scholarships totaling $7,740,000.

“The Udall Scholarship is a highly competitive national scholarship that is awarded to college students who excel in the environmental field,” said COA David Rockefeller Family Chair in Ecosystem Management and Protection Ken Cline. “It recognizes academic achievement and talent, but what really sets this award apart is that it looks at what nominees have actually done – how have they demonstrated a commitment to the environment.  Laura and Matthew each have an incredible record of environmental achievement.”

The 2016 Udall Scholars will assemble August 9-14, 2016, in Tucson, Arizona, to meet one another and program alumni; learn more about the Udall legacy of public service; and interact with community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care, and governance.

Laura Berry

Laura Berry ’17, of Nashville, TN, is a 2016 Udall ScholarLaura Berry ’17, of Nashville, TN, is a 2016 Udall ScholarLaura Berry, of Nashville, TN, is a human ecology major at College of the Atlantic, where she strives to understand the social and economic aspects of environmental issues. Berry’s goals are to use her energy to create more equitable forms of sustainable development for people and the planet. She takes an interdisciplinary approach to her study of the environment, utilizing COA’s course offerings and non-departmental approach to see the issue from many perspectives, which she says is essential for dealing with problems of high complexity.

“The environmental issue has traditionally been approached as a top down regulation issue, which leaves out a lot of nuance of the context of where that issue is taking place,” Berry said. “It’s important to approach these problems from an interdisciplinary framework, if we want to solve them on both the global and local scales.”

For Berry that framework has included courses such as, “Community Planning and Decision Making” and “Advanced Seminar in Ecological Economics”  This mix of studies has allowed her to develop an understanding of environmental issues from a multi-faceted perspective, she said.

Promoting political ecology

“What really allows Laura to achieve such outstanding academic results  is her ability to think across a broad range of disciplines in a highly synthetic manner, combined with very effective communication skills. She is a natural at relating the human ecology of political discourse to ecological and environmental issues, hence her strong interest in political ecology,” said COA economics professor Davis Taylor. “Laura is aware not just of different knowledge across disciplines, but also of different epistemologies and paradigmatic approaches.”

Since transferring to COA from Middlebury College in 2014, Berry has been an  member of Earth in Brackets, a student climate justice group, and a member and chair of the Campus Committee for Sustainability. She has worked to compile and distribute data on campus electricity use, presented on renewable energy options, organized COA students to attend environmental rallies and demonstrations including last year’s historic People’s Climate March in NYC, helped with on-campus discarded resource management, and worked with administrators to improve the sustainability of the College’s endowment portfolio.

An enduring vision

“Laura specifically came to COA because she saw humans inextricably entwined with the environment and wanted an educational program that matched that vision,” Cline said. “She has totally embraced human ecology in a deep and profound way.  That shows in her comments in classes, her papers, her sustainability efforts on campus, and in her career goals.”

Berry has worked in Washington, DC with as a Fossil Free Fellow organizing against fossil fuel extraction, and recently spent a semester in Scotland studying Environmental Stewardship at the University of Glasgow. This summer, she will continue local sustainability work through an Energy Fellowship with MDI Clean Energy Partners.

Matthew Kennedy

Matthew Kennedy ’18, of Mableton, GA, is a 2016 Udall Scholar.Matthew Kennedy ’18, of Mableton, GA, is a 2016 Udall Scholar.Matthew Kennedy is a human ecology major at College of the Atlantic, where he studies environmental politics, literature, & alternative economics. After spending a term collecting testimonies from Yucatecan subsistence farmers affected by climate change, he intends in coming years to work alongside vulnerable and marginalized peoples who are combatting fossil fuels, challenging corporate power, and building more livable communities.

Kennedy, of Mableton, GA, believes that the world’s thorny environmental problems will not be solved by solely focusing on the numbers and the science, but by developing and building human connections, and focusing on the human stories at the heart of the climate issue.

“In addition to new ways of thinking about governance or economics, some things that are also central to the environmental and social movements going on right now are myth, narrative, and art,” Kennedy said. “Something we’ve seen with climate change is people aren’t always affected by science, and people aren’t always affected by numbers. That’s why it’s necessary to make it more than about atmosphere, or chemistry…to make it essentially a human story.”

Kennedy has dedicated time at COA to campus zero-waste efforts, the Campus Committee for Sustainability, and Earth in Brackets. He has been very focused on his work with the latter group, traveling to the United Nations climate change conference, advocating for issues on the local level, and liaising with other climate justice advocates in New England.

A transdisciplinary approach

“Influenced by ideas of environmental aesthetics and his study of literature and visual practices, Matthew has worked to define categories of interest within his extraordinary relationship with the local college community and our institution’s relationship to the adjacent public lands in which we do much of our teaching and learning,” said COA Allan Stone Chair in the Visual Arts Catherine Clinger. “Matthew has the rare ability to cultivate community and help maintain the integrity of the college’s commitment to environmental stewardship while all along understanding that these actions need to be linked to the stories and images of places and people that inhabit the earth.”

Kennedy plans to become a community organizer, working closely with people who have been marginalized by environmental racism and damaged by climate change.

“Through authoring, orating, political advocacy, and the design of alternative lifestyles, I hope to participate avidly in the societal transition to a more sustainable, post-carbon world,” he said.