For the second consecutive year, a student from the Colleges has received the prestigious Morris K. Udall Scholarship. Brittany Flaherty ’10 was one of only 80 students selected from across the country to receive this highly competitive national award designed to promote environmental outreach, research and understanding.
“As a leukemia survivor, I have been searching for the perfect career in science because I owe my life to this field,” Flaherty explains. “In my Fluid Earth class with Associate Professor of Geoscience Tara Curtin, I learned that water contamination has been linked with high incidences of leukemia and other forms of cancer.”
“Brittany’s interest in aquatic systems seemed to blossom when the class took trips out on the Colleges’ research vessel ‘The William Scandling’ and to nearby Zurich bog and local streams,” says Curtin. “In the field, she was able to see how the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere are all connected and control the amount of available freshwater and its quality. She successfully applied her scientific perspective to conversations about current water issues on a regional and global scale.”
Flaherty says that Curtin’s course made her realize that she didn’t need to become a doctor to help cancer patients. “Preventing pollution will allow me to protect both people and our natural surroundings,” she says. “Since water is arguably the most important natural resource on Earth, I would like to dedicate my life to ensuring that people around the world are drinking water that is clean and beneficial to their health. I know what it’s like to suffer from a terrible disease and, for me, working in the field of water quality is one of the best ways to prevent other children from such an experience.”
Flaherty’s interest in cancer mirrors that of the Scholarship’s founder – Morris K. Udall. “Congressman Udall was obviously dedicated to the environment, but he also exhibited a passion for cancer prevention through speeches to the American Cancer Society,” she says. “Udall’s involvement in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 drew my attention because it’s aligned with the regulation work that I hope to accomplish over the course of my career.”
Post-graduation, Flaherty plans to attend graduate school to further her education and prepare her to become an environmental regulatory specialist with a focus on water quality. By earning a master’s degree in aquatic science and working towards making safe drinking water around the world, Flaherty will also contribute to the well-being of the planet’s ecology, another main goal of hers.
As a student at the Colleges, Flaherty is a double major in biology and environmental studies with a minor in English. She plans to undertake an honors thesis focused on aquatic studies. Outside of the classroom, Flaherty is the co-founder and co-president of the Colleges Against Cancer/Relay for Life; the co-creator of HWS Green Minutes; a member of America Reads, Arts Collective and the Biology faculty review committee.
The Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation was authorized by Congress in 1992 to honor Congressman Udall’s legacy of public service. The Foundation is supported by a trust fund in the U.S. Treasury and contributions from the private sector. There have been 916 Udall Scholars since the first awards in 1996. Congressman Udall served in the House of Representatives for three decades and was instrumental in many pieces of environmental legislation, including the Alaska Lands Act of 1980, which doubled the size of the national park system and tripled the amount of national wilderness. Udall was also a champion of the rights of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, using his leadership in Congress to strengthen tribal self-governance.
Through the Udall Foundation, Flaherty will receive a host of scholarly benefits, including up to $5,000 for tuition, room and board or other educational expenses; an all-expense-paid four-day Udall Scholars Orientation in Tucson, Arizona to meet with other scholars, elected officials, environmental and tribal leaders; and access to a network of environmental, Native American health and tribal policy professionals.
In the photo above, taken last month, Flaherty is in Fiordland National Park in New Zealand while studying abroad.