Udall Scholar combines environmental sustainability research with action

By April Hunt | Emory Report | May 28, 2019

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Emory College student Katelyn Boisvert has been named a 2019 Udall Scholar for her dedication to sustainability and finding practical solutions to environmental concerns. She is Emory’s third Udall winner in three years.

Emory College student Katelyn Boisvert has been named a 2019 Udall Scholar for her dedication to sustainability and finding practical solutions to environmental concerns.

The $7,000 national award from the Udall Foundation recognizes college sophomores and juniors nationwide for leadership, academic achievement, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations, health care or the environment. 

A Woodruff Scholar majoring in environmental sciences and minoring in sustainability sciences, Boisvert just completed her junior year. She is one of 55 exceptional undergraduates who will meet this summer for a week of seminars and networking with leaders in those fields.

“Environmental science is still an emerging field in many ways, and while Emory is at the forefront of that movement, everyone has a different idea of what sustainability means,” she says. “I know that it will be very valuable to me to have a broader perspective as I move forward in my career.”

Committed to sustainability

Boisvert, who is Emory’s third Udall winner in three years, will bring her own expansive view of environmental sustainability.

She is a longtime volunteer with green efforts on campus, with a focus on raising student awareness by working with groups as varied as the Residence Hall Council, Volunteer Emory and the University Senate. She is now an intern with Emory’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives (OSI), leading its Zero Waste effort.

Most recently, Boisvert identified a need to improve waste education and management at Emory’s Clairmont Campus. She been working closely with Emory OSI, Campus Services and Residence Life on a comprehensive survey on needs there and will make recommendations for improvements for the coming fall semester.

Her work experience has also focused on environmentalism. As a summer intern with the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Texas, she created an end-use classification system for water demand modeling in Austin, Texas. She co-authored an article describing the model that has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management.

Boisvert also interned with the Ohio Environmental Council last summer, authoring a white paper on factors that affect water rates statewide and showing regionalization as a potential solution.

“This is very intensive work, but Katelyn is very passionate and very thoughtful,” says Eri Saikawa, associate professor of environmental sciences, who is developing Emory’s resiliency plan as one of the inaugural Sustainability Faculty Fellows. “She leads in a way that is almost invisible but is able to get us moving the in the right direction. That’s what real leadership is.”

Pairing facts with action

Boisvert is a leader in other areas as well. She is a mentor and fellow with the Emory Scholars program, as well as an orientation leader. She also sits on the executive board of the Emory Equestrian Team, where she participates as an athlete.

Still, the environment is a focal point, a natural outgrowth of childhood science fair projects that resulted in kiddie pools of algae in the garage and 500 butterflies flitting in a hand-made habitat in her house as she researched ideas as diverse as the effects of pesticides on algae blooms and the feeding patterns of painted lady butterflies.

Emory drew her attention in part because of its undergraduate commitment to interdisciplinary exploration as part of a top-tier research institution and, in part, because of the WaterHub.

The first-of-its-kind facility uses engineered processes that emulate natural ecological systems to reclaim wastewater for heating and cooling buildings and flushing toilet on campus. For Boisvert, who grew up in Arizona, it was the embodiment of what sustainability could do.

“I thought it was the coolest thing that an academic institution was being so innovative to preserve water,” says Boisvert, who has since become a WaterHub docent. “There is a rising interest in doing things like this, but people don’t always know how.”

Boisvert plans to attend graduate school before pursuing a career in either a corporate social responsibility program or a community-based environmental management effort.

“It’s very important in our world today to pair facts with action,” she says. “That is how you will solve problems in the long run.”