WWU Student Risa Askerooth is Western’s First Udall Scholarship Winner in 10 Years

Western junior Risa Askerooth’s commitment to environmental justice on and off campus has led to Western’s first Udall Undergraduate Scholarship winner in more than a decade.

The $7,000 Udall Scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors who show public service, leadership, and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or the environment. The Udall Foundation awards the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship to 55 out of about 450 undergraduate student applicants. Askerooth entered in the environmental category. The scholarship’s winners attend a five day Scholar Orientation held in Tucson, Arizona in August, and the workshops held with Udall alumni provide networking opportunities for the attendees.

Askerooth said she was honored when she found out she received the award earlier this month.

“I just want to give a huge thank you to WWU Fellowship Office Director Tom Moore and my letter writers, Johnathan Riopelle of the Office of Sustainability, James Helfield of the Huxley College of Environment, and Claudia Jolls of East Carolina University,” she said. “I feel hugely indebted to them.”

Helfield said he was not surprised by Askerooth’s award.

“I could not think of a more deserving student,” he said. “It gives me great comfort to know that she is one of the people who will be working on solutions for our environmental problems in the future.”

Last spring, Askerooth was among five students from Western who were awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During that time she also received a Udall honorable mention.

Moore said Askerooth was deserving of the award, and would represent WWU well.

“Risa’s smart, modest and wonderful to work with,” Moore said. “I really enjoy working with the students and helping them to succeed in these kinds of applications that are nationally competitive.”

A native of Haleiwa, Hawaii, Askerooth knew after high school she wanted to attend a university with a strong environmental program.

“Huxley has a great reputation as one of the oldest environmental colleges in the U.S., and I think so many students on this campus are plugged into environmental justice or other forms of activism,” she said. “I thought that was really cool as someone who hadn’t heard about a lot of these issues in high school and had thought of environmentalism from a purely ecological stand point, and not how it related to humans or other ways in which we live.”

Last fall, Askerooth helped establish a composting project on campus with students Jessica Loveland and Abby Severns. As sustainability representative mentors, they collaborated with University Residences to bring composting to residence halls on campus.

Despite the early success of the initiative, Askerooth plans on doing more during her senior year.

 “I definitely want to keep working on issues related to natural resource management,” she said. “Like working to preserve native or endangered species in Washington or elsewhere along the coast.”

This summer she will be at the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve as part of the NOAA Hollings Scholarship Program where she will be evaluating the success of a previous fish habitat restoration in Radio Tower Bay. In early August she’ll travel to a conference in Silver Spring, Maryland to present her findings before attending the Udall conference the following week.

After her graduation next spring, Askerooth said she might take a gap year or apply for the Peace Corps. Eventually she wants to go to graduate school to get her master’s degree in Natural Resource Management or Conservation Biology. But now, she’s looking forward to the orientation in August.

“I’ll get to meet the people who reviewed my application as well as all the other scholars who won this year as we network and work on case studies,” she said. “Learning more about the work that other Udall recipients are doing will be really exciting.”

For more information on the many scholarships and fellowships available to Western students, contact Tom Moore in Western’s Fellowship Office at (360) 650-4074.