As a George Mason University student majoring in environmental and sustainability studies, Katie Russell is acutely aware of the environmental challenges facing the world.
But Russell is not one to accept the status quo.
“It’s all the more reason to act, to do what you can, to do your part,” she said when asked about global climate change, sea level rise and the threat to species. “For me, for the future, it means there’s going to be lots of work to try to fix some of the problems we’re facing.”
Russell has a good head start.
The junior from Phoenix, Arizona, has already interned with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, researching seaweed, among other things, and doing environmental education. And she will intern next summer in Alaska with the U.S. Forest Service, monitoring a sockeye salmon fishery.
Russell has also interned with the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and worked with Councilmember Jennifer Passey, of Fairfax, Virginia, to help start the city’s first composting initiative.
Add that she is a member of Mason’s Honors College and a University Scholar, and it is no surprise Russell earned a 2019 Udall Scholarship, which pays up to $7,000 to sophomores or juniors committed to issues related to Native American nations or the environment.
She was one of 55 winners out of 443 applicants.
“Katie is a powerhouse, just a ball of energy,” said Andy Hoefer, assistant dean of the Honors College. “Katie’s enthusiasm and commitment inspires other students and motivates them to take action. She asks good questions and has the work ethic to chase the answers to those questions.”
Russell said she initially did not want to attend Mason because it is the alma mater of her brother, Joseph, BA Government and International Politics ’18, who also was a member of the Honors College and was a Truman Scholarship winner.
But Katie said the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation was a huge draw, and the full-ride scholarship that Mason’s University Scholars Program offered didn’t hurt either.
“Mason definitely has some great opportunities,” she said.
Russell also made opportunities for herself.
After a chance meeting with Passey at a Mason event, Russell worked for a year with the Fairfax councilmember on the city’s composting program.
“She went to the Environmental Sustainability Committee meetings, she did research for me, she helped me kind of talk through things,” Passey said. “She was so motivated; she motivated me to just keep going.”
Russell said she wants to work in both the environment and policy fields, so earning a law degree and a master’s degree in science is one option. She is spending the spring 2019 semester in Cholula, Mexico, studying at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla.
“All my classes are in literature and history and international relations,” she said, “so I could improve my Spanish.”
She still has been able to tie in her environmental interests. One of her papers is about how U.S. and Mexican water policies of the Colorado River impact ecological and human communities.