Kelsey Dunn ’21, 2020 Udall Scholarship Winner


Tell us a little bit about the Udall Scholarship and where it will be taking you!
Every year the Udall Foundation awards the Udall Scholarship to undergraduate students who have demonstrated leadership, public service, and commitment to issues pertaining to Native American nations or to the environment. I applied in the environment category and wrote about my desire to pursue a career in environmental law to advocate for environmental protection and fight for environmental justice. The Udall Scholarship, scholar orientation, and alumni network will be a really helpful stepping stone along that path. 

What (or who) are the major influences in your life that have inspired you to pursue this path?
It’s cheesy, but my mom has always been a big influence in my life. Since I was young she has encouraged me to find my own passions and pursue them wholeheartedly. I attribute the space she gave to find my own way as pivotal to my pursuing this path. Since arriving at Wellesley, another really important influence has been the environmental community on campus. Finding community in the ES Department and the Paulson Initiative, and especially in Renew and EnAct, has been a sustaining source of inspiration to keep pushing on. 

How did your time at Wellesley shape your interests, or encourage you along this path? Your professors? Career Education?
My time at Wellesley has shaped my interests dramatically. Before I came to school I had never considered studying or pursuing Environmental Studies. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, the natural world had always been an integral part of my life, but it never seemed like a possible career. It wasn’t until I had taken a few classes in the department that I realized it was the inseparability of the environment from society that really interested me. My activities outside of the classroom were even more formative. The more I learned about the environment and the way it intersected with issues of racial and social justice, the more I realized that action urgently needs to be taken to address these issues. Working with Renew Wellesley on the campaign for fossil fuel divestment showed me just how much it takes to make even small progress on issues of environmental and climate justice, and has encouraged me to devote more and more time towards fighting for those ideals. 

What did you learn or gain from going through the application process?
Kate Dailinger in Career Education completely changed my perspective on applications when she pushed me to think about the process as a way to practice articulating my reflections on the past and hopes for the future. Through the drafting process, I learned how to speak about my own experience (and realized that I actually had done a lot more than I thought!) and better communicate what I want to do moving forward. The Udall application is long and comprehensive, but after finishing it, I felt like I had a great source of writing samples to pull from down the line. 

What inspired you to take the leap and apply? Or, what would you say to encourage your peers to apply?
Around two weeks before the campus deadline our Environmental Studies Program Coordinator Jessica Hunter emailed me to let me know I still had some time to apply. For some reason, even though I had worked in the Department the entire year compiling lists of fellowships and internships, I never thought to submit an application! With her encouragement I decided to apply and I’m really glad I did. I would encourage anyone who is eligible for the award to apply (and start much earlier than I did) or talk to Career Education/Jessica Hunter/your advisor about applying. We’ve all heard it countless times by now, but you never know if something will work out until you try; and in the case of the Udall there is a lot to be gained just from the process.

What most excites you about this opportunity?
I’m really excited about the upcoming scholar orientation/summit this summer (it is virtual instead of in-person this year). I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to build community with other like minded people across the country who are dedicated to working on the same kinds of issues that I am. I’ve already been added to the alumni network and it has been super encouraging and exciting to see people interacting in that space on different projects, job opportunities, and general advice. Now more than ever I feel confident that I am moving in the direction that I want to be moving in. Most of all, I feel energized to continue down the long road ahead to achieving environmental and climate justice.