Four Cornell students win 2017 Truman, Udall scholarships

Cornell students Alec Martinez ’18 and Celina Scott-Buechler ’18 received Harry S. Truman Scholarships, which awards $30,000 for graduate studies to juniors who intend to pursue careers in public service. Scott-Buechler, Skye Hart ’18 and Dejah Powell ’18 won Udall Scholarships, which provides $7,000 to undergraduates committed to careers related to the environment or, if they are Native Americans, to health care or tribal policy.

The Truman Scholarship program looks for students who show the leadership and have a record of service necessary to make a positive difference for society. This year, 62 scholars were selected from 768 applicants from 315 U.S. colleges and universities.

Scott-Buechler, who majors in marine science and coastal sustainability in the College of Arts and Sciences, was selected for Truman and Udall scholarships. She is interested in the intersection of environmental science and social inequality. Her work explores how human-made forces drive change in marine coral reef systems, and how such change affects vulnerable coastal populations.

She is studying marine science in Hawaii and Washington state this semester. She is involved with Climate Justice Cornell and serves as student body representative to Cornell’s Senior Leaders Climate Action Group. She is president and co-founder of Critical Thought at Cornell, a coalition of students working in various social and environmental-justice initiatives. She plans to earn a doctorate in marine ecology, with the hope of working in nonprofit, community-based management of marine protected areas, with emphasis on coral reef fisheries.

“These awards are most meaningful to me for their communities of scholars and activists dedicated to creating a just world,” Scott-Buechler said. “I will have the privilege of engaging on topics of social and environmental justice with my fellow Truman scholars in May, and Udall in August, during which I hope to build national networks of support and solidarity.”

Truman scholar Martinez, who majors in city and regional planning in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP), is active in Cornell Design Connect’s neighborhood revitalization project in Corning, New York, and he volunteered this spring in an alternative breaks program in New York where he worked with Harlem Grown to transform vacant lots into urban farms. He plans to earn a master’s in urban and regional planning, and then start his own urban planning firm and parallel nonprofit. He aspires to run for public office.

“All the while growing up, I lost myself in dreams about how I could make the world a better place, someday, somehow,” he said. “Being selected and having the foundation believe in me is surreal. It makes me think that maybe I really can change the world.”

The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship is offered by the Udall Foundation, an independent federal agency that promotes leadership, education, collaboration and conflict resolution in the areas of the environment, public lands, natural resources and Native nations. In 2017, 50 scholars were selected from 494 applicants nominated nationwide.

Hart, who majors in city and regional planning, is a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians. As a Hunter R. Rawlings III Presidential Research Scholar, Hart conducts independent research on urban Native communities. She is a co-chair of Native American Students at Cornell and a Cornell representative to the Ivy Native Council, and she tutors students from the Onondaga Nation. She plans to earn a master’s in urban and regional planning, with the goal of eventually working with urban Native communities to help them address homelessness, education and gaining access to culturally-relevant resources through planning and community development work.

“I appreciate that this is a government-funded scholarship that recognizes Native students’ dedication to supporting their communities,” she said.

Powell, who majors in environmental science and sustainability in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, founded the “Get Them to the Green” project to promote love of the environment among young students of color in Chicago. This semester she is part of the School for International Training’s International Honors Program on climate change, traveling to Morocco, Vietnam and Bolivia, where she is studying the politics of food, water and energy.

Powell, who is also a Rawlings research scholar, works in an environmental microbiology lab and is a member of two project teams with Cornell University Sustainable Design. Her career aspirations include work that educates people on the environment and addresses issues of environmental and climate justice. She wants to return to her hometown of Chicago to start this work.

“I don’t feel that I will have lived out my life duty if I’m not striving toward creating a greener, more socially and environmentally just city… and world,” Powell said. “My aspirations are rooted and intertwined with the goals of the scholarship.”

This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle. Yvette Ndlovu, communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences, also contributed to this story.

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