The Environmental Leadership Award (ELA) winners and finalists were recognized at an award ceremony on March 22, 2023. ELAs are a means of recognizing individuals or groups who have worked alone or as part of organizations to support sustainability efforts at UConn and beyond. Nominations were submitted by faculty members, staff members, and students last fall. Nominees were evaluated by a committee appointed by the Office of Sustainability and Institute of the Environment.
The Awardees of the 2019-2022 Environmental Leadership Awards are:
Undergraduate Student: Isabelle Hudson (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology ’23)
Hudson is said to “exemplify sustainability through her consistent, dedicated and persistent leadership as the president of the UConn Horticulture Club and as a student worker in the UConn Floriculture Greenhouses. As greenhouse worker, she strongly advocated for reducing pesticides and actively worked to use natural biocontrol to handle pest issues. As Horticulture Club president, she pushes for more greenery on campus. The recent Crossroads Café was decorated in plants grown in the UConn Floriculture Greenhouses – which improves mood and air quality for students.” Our winner also educates others. “She educates upwards of 40 student club members on environmental issues and actions they can take to make change. She even quells students’ fear of bees and bugs through her passion for conservation and the role they play in creating a healthy environment.” Isabelle Hudson “fosters curiosity and a love for nature in everyone she comes in contact with.”
Graduate Student: Dr. Ben North (MBA ’23)
Dr. Ben North has been a graduate student multiple times! He recently completed a PhD in Natural Resource Economics from the University of Florida focused on the sustainable development of bioenergy markets in the southeast. He is currently an MBA student at UConn, combining his environmental science background with enhanced business skills to push for better climate action. His nominator says, “He was an Innovation Fellow with UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, and worked with US energy generation and emissions data to provide insights to improve software for his host company, Unscrambl. He also was a UConn@COP fellow in 2022. He has continued to demonstrate long-term commitment to sustainability by working for several eco-organizations in Connecticut, including: the Connecticut Green Bank, the Highstead Foundation, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.” We’re also impressed by his active membership in the Connecticut Sustainable Business Council and his efforts as lead portfolio manager of the UConn Student Managed Fund (SMF) MBA Team. In his role with the SMF program, he pushes for environmental sustainability considerations in investing their $1.1 million portfolio.
Faculty: Dr. Jamie Vaudrey (Marine Biology)
Dr. Vaudrey was nominated on the basis of excellence in outreach, academics and teamwork in support of the environment. On outreach, her nominator shared “Communicating science is the fiber that runs through all of her research and teaching. She does this across a broad array of stakeholders, shaping the stewardship trajectories of watersheds regionally and seagrass ecosystems worldwide. Her leadership roles in professional societies and on advisory councils have pushed for more integration of scientific results into decision making and broadened participation of underrepresented groups in marine science. The success of establishing the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve is largely due to this nominee who spearheaded the steering committee.” Additionally, “She works with Save the Sound and other public environmental education groups to engage citizens, senators, and federal agencies with nitrogen pollution and helped develop an Environmental Report Card for Long Island Sound. Her impact on understanding of environmental and sustainability in Connecticut’s local waters reaches far beyond the classroom.” Congratulations to Dr. Jamie Vaudrey who’s “compassion for nature and the future of Long Island Sound emanates from her everyday work, which is a key motivating force for every member of her team!”
Staff: Katie Milardo (Facilities)
Katie Milardo’s nominator described her as “always being overwhelmingly kind and open to discussing anything. She has gone above and beyond with answering questions about EcoMadness in addition to scheduling tours of the Co-Generation Facility. Facilities is a large and complicated department, but she makes it easy to navigate.” She also recently became the advisor of the re-vamped Soil and Water Conservation Society UConn Student chapter, which works toward natural resource conservation.
UConn Group: Spring Valley Student Farm
SVSF is described as “always trying new, innovative sustainability techniques to make the land healthier. They host bees and pollinators, don’t use herbicides and pesticides, and are working on activating solar energy.” The group also is haven for students – “Student volunteers are provided weekly transportation to the farm, making it accessible for students without cars. The new composting privy is ADA accessible and they host learning opportunities about local food insecurity, zero-waste, and tree production. They over a diversity of activities and show commitment to building sustainable, green community.”
Environmental Justice – Faculty: Dr. Elle Ouimet (Anthropology)
Dr. Ouimet advances action through teaching courses and advising extracurricular work that empowers students to make change locally and build community. She is the advisor for EcoHusky and has connected the club with Environmental Justice partners like Keney Park Sustainability Project. As her nominator shares, “She exemplifies conservation because she motivates students to explore their personal relationship with nature and promotes the use of sustainable goods and services. Her courses provide students with knowledge needed to critically engage with their personal role in climate change and its unequal impact on marginalized communities.” She is a champion for collaboration, building bridges across campus to create change. Lastly, her nominator shares “she has been the catalyst for so many student voices at UConn pushing for environmental equity on campus, while bringing a global, regional and local approach to teaching environmental justice.”
Environmental Justice – Student: Sydney Collins (Environmental Science ’23)
Sydney Collins has worked for UConn Student Government to promote alternative transportation, organizing a community ride day to boost cycling on campus. She connects this work to the many social improvements that biking offers – improved health and mood, and healthier air for all. Her nominator says, “She is a strong leader for the environment. Her leadership inspires me and others to work on environmental issues and to try and make change. She took on her roles at USG to help create solutions and improve UConn. She feels everyone has a voice and enables all to be part of the discussion.” Collins focuses on environmental justice in and out of class. Her nominator shares that “she is passionate and dedicated to achieving environmental justice for everyone and making sure everyone has an equal living situation and life. She goes above and beyond to fight for environmental justice – and that passion has inspired my life path.”
Graduate Student: Christabelle Calabretta (Law ’23)
Calabretta was nominated by a classmate who shares that she “has excelled in our environmental and climate law classes at UConn Law. She is an outstanding leader on our campus and helped develop and found the Energy and Environmental Law Negotiation Competition at UConn Law. She conducted research for CIRCA and is working to publish a paper on the fashion industry’s impact on climate change.” The Office of Sustainability grew familiar with this finalist during COP27 as a UConn@COP fellow. At COP and back at home, she has been a mentor to underclassmen and an inspiration on staying engaged and educated on environmental matters and ways to promote justice. She recently was offered a fellowship at DesegregateCT, which has a strong environmental justice component. Her nominator says, “She is a leader in environmental academics and outreach on UConn Law’s campus and deserves to be recognized for her efforts to grow an environmental law community.”
Faculty: Dr. Oksan Bayulgen (Political Science) Dr. Mike Dietz (CT Institute of Water Resources)
Dr. Bayulgen is described as “a tireless advocate of sustainability on the UConn campus and globally throughout her career. She has led students participating in the United Nations climate change conference and lent her expertise on renewable energy and sustainability practices to enhance UConn’s purchasing policies. She had developed innovative courses integral to the GenEd Sustainability mandate and Human Rights coursework. She leads with integrity and compassion and is a masterful consensus-builder, while deeply committed to ensuring equity in the process of economic growth.” Dr. Oksan Bayulgen is “the best example of a scholar-advocate and a leading voice on these issues globally”!
Dr. Dietz also received glowing remarks from his nominator. “He is always looking for practical ways to bridge findings from scientific research to the lifestyles of everyone outside of our academic system. He promotes public health and community knowledge in many ways. He began a low cost well water testing program for rural areas of Connecticut, identifying toxins that otherwise are prohibitively costly to detect. He’s also put on the Green Snow Pro program to educate state and municipal workers on environmentally conscious salt application – this directly improves human, plant and aquatic health. His joint Stormwater Corps course demonstrates to students how to create environmental change in towns through green stormwater infrastructure installation, combining theory with practice. His unconventional routes as a professor helps students see the world from different perspectives. He never misses an opportunity to meet with students individually.” From Dr. Dietz’s graduate student, “I know that I have a one-in-a-million advisor. If Mike Dietz has done anything in the past year, he’s given me countless reasons to pursue a lifetime in environmental research and conservation.”