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Student wins scholarship for environmental work

July 18, 2005

Photo of Charlotte ElySenior Charlotte Ely may be soft-spoken, but her voice rings loud and clear in the environmental community. Her dedication to the environment, volunteer work and academic accomplishments have earned her a $5,000 Morris K. Udall Scholarship.

Ely, a San Francisco native, is the first SFSU recipient of the award. This year, 81 scholars were selected from among 436 candidates. The Udall Foundation awards renewable, merit-based scholarships to U.S. students who, like Ely, demonstrate outstanding commitment to the environment, tribal public policy or health care.

"Charlotte is a passionate and caring student; she is very bright," said Barbara Holzman, associate professor of geography and human environmental studies. "Her passion for making change, her awareness for the uniqueness of the planet, and her willingness to work hard made her a choice candidate and an appropriate recipient of the Udall scholarship."

Morris K. Udall served in the House of Representatives for three decades and was "one of the most successful and most powerful environmental congressmen in the history of the United States," Ely said. His love for the environment resulted in numerous pieces of legislation, chief among them the Alaska Lands Act of 1980, which doubled the size of the national park system and tripled the country's national wilderness.

During the application process for the scholarship, Ely left her English tutoring job to devote more time to such environmental-based organizations as the Sierra Club, Green Action, ArcEcology and Organic Consumers Association.

She now interns at Presidio National Park, where she monitors rare plants and helps restore the native habitat. She also is a writer and editor of Urban Action, a journal published by the SFSU Urban Studies Program.

Ely, an environmentalist since childhood, plans to graduate next year with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies. She expects to combine her knowledge of biological and social sciences to advocate for the use of bio-based remediation, a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to clean up polluted water and hazardous waste sites.

Bio-based remediation, also known as bioremediation or phytoremediation, uses micro-organisms, plants and mushrooms to rid water and soil of pollutants instead of, for example, boiling out the toxins, which disrupts the surrounding ecosystem.

"We go at a snail's pace for problems that are moving faster than we can even begin to comprehend," Ely said, commenting on the lack of remediation funding and research.

Ely hopes eventually to land a position within the Environmental Protection Agency's remediation division to encourage the use of bio/phytoremediation across the country.

When Ely isn't bird-watching, cooking organic meals for her parents and brother, or working to save the world, she relaxes by writing in her journal and playing the Appalachian dulcimer, a four-stringed guitar-like instrument. "There's no offensive note," Ely said. "It's all smooth."

-- Student Writer Lisa Rau with Matt Itelson


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Last modified July 18, 2005 by University Communications