The Colleges community mourns the sudden loss of Courtney Wilson ’08, who died on Monday, Sept. 9 due to a catastrophic series of neurological events. Originally from San Mateo, Calif., Wilson earned her B.A. in public policy studies and environmental studies from William Smith and minored in economics and French and Francophone studies. Wilson was a 2013 graduate of The School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan master’s program and a current doctoral student.
“Courtney embodied what a liberal arts education can and should be. Her
tireless work ethic and infectiously positive attitude opened many doors,” remembers Associate Professor of Education James MaKinster, noting she traveled to Austria, Indonesia, Brazil and Kenya. “She worked collaboratively with a wide variety of people in policy, environmental science and science education, wrestling with real-world problems, each of which had profound implications. But most importantly, she approached every challenge and opportunity with a real balance among her sense of humility, her sense of humor, and her desire to produce the best possible outcome given the puzzle pieces she had in hand. We will miss the warmth that radiated from her smile and her heart.”
As a student at William Smith, Wilson participated in the semester program in Washington, D.C., and was a student staff member of the Environmental Science Summer Youth Institute. She completed an internship as part of the GIT Ahead program at the Finger Lakes Institute, a project funded by the National Science Foundation, and also served as GIT Ahead teaching assistant.
In 2007, Wilson was one of three HWS students to attend ATHGO International’s “Global Third Way: Becoming One with the Environment” 3rd Annual Global Forum at the United Nations. This trip launched her Honor’s project and led to trips to Vienna and Bali to observe international climate negotiations. For her Honor’s thesis, Wilson proposed a path forward for international negotiators on climate change: “The Clean Development Mechanism: A Post-2012 International Policy Proposal.”
Wilson also observed negotiations by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Vienna, Austria and Bali, Indonesia, as part of her Honors project, following two summer research positions with Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Tom Drennen, one of her advisers. She was in the audience in Bali when former Vice President Al Gore spoke to the United Nations’ Climate Control Conference.
“I’ll never forget the goose bumps I got reading an e-mail from her from Bali when Gore walked into the room to address the delegates. Courtney was so alive and so excited to be part of the excitement in Bali,” recalls Drennen, hearing of her passing. “This is a terrible loss. Courtney was an amazing, amazing student. No one worked harder than her to succeed in her courses.”
One project, Wilson’s piece, “Courtney’s Law: Protecting and Informing America’s Patients,” explains the often-overlooked risks associated with CT scans and was published in the 2007 edition of the Public Affairs Journal.
In 2008, she provided student remarks and joined founder of the Green Belt Movement, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai P’94, P’96, Sc.D.’94 and several community members in planting a tree near the Quad in observance of Green Week, in honor of the founder of William Smith College, philanthropist and nurseryman William Smith, and in celebration of the William Smith Centennial.
After graduation she was offered a position as a curriculum development specialist for the Crossing Boundaries Project for which MaKinster was principal investigator. She was based at Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology and was funded as the first Crossing Boundaries intern in Brazil. There, she worked at IMAZON, a non-profit organization promoting sustainable development in the Amazon rainforest. Her project entailed using GIT to identify locations suitable for reforestation projects.
A journal article co-authored by Wilson and MaKinster, among others, titled “Science pipes: A world of data at your fingertips,” was published in Science Teacher, October, 2010. Their article “Local to global: A bird’s eye view of changing landscapes,” was published in American Biology Teacher, volume 71, issue 7. She will also be listed as a co-author on three forthcoming curriculum books based on their work in Crossing Boundaries.
Professor of Public Policy Studies and Political Science Craig Rimmerman, who was one of her advisers, recalls Wilson: “She was a luminous presence in my classes and in my office, a constant reminder of why I have devoted to my life to working with young people. Students like Courtney are a reminder of why we all work so hard.” He dedicated his Environmental Policy class on Tuesday to Wilson, “in memory of her seriousness of purpose, her dedication, and her passion for the environment and for making the world a better place.”
“We have lost a very special student and person and my sympathies and prayers remain to all of our community who knew her and experienced the excitement she experienced with her William Smith education,” writes Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire HON ’10, L.H.D. ’12.
The School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan led a campus-wide celebration of her life on Sept. 11. A slideshow the school created is online.
Marie Lynn Miranda, Ph.D., Dean of SNRE wrote: “Courtney’s decision to be an organ donor will save four lives today: an out of state lung transplant, and local kidney, kidney and pancreas, and liver transplants.”