Published April 5, 2012
University at Buffalo junior Esther Buckwalter has won the
nationally coveted Morris K. Udall Scholarship, awarded to
outstanding students who have demonstrated a commitment to careers
in the environment, health care or tribal public policy.
She is one of 80 students from 70 colleges nationwide selected for the scholarship from among 585 candidates nominated by 274 colleges and universities.
Buckwalter will receive a $5,000 scholarship for her senior year at UB. In August, she will travel to Tucson, Ariz., to receive her award and meet policymakers and community leaders.
More information about the scholarship is available at http://www.udall.gov.
A resident of Alfred, N.Y., Buckwalter is majoring in environmental engineering with a minor in Spanish.
Her environmental engineering resume and humanitarian dossier to date would be impressive for anyone three times her age. She has spent the past three years as a grass roots activist working on a host of environmental and sustainability issues, as distant as Asia and local as Buffalo's East Side.
After graduation, Buckwalter plans to pursue a position as a Peace Corps engineer in Latin America and devote herself to improving global access to safe drinking water.
"Water amazes me," explains Buckwalter. "Water forms our landscapes, dictates the functions of our bodies, grows our food sources and powers some of our cities. It's so basic and necessary."
Her passion for environmental engineering and water systems and policy was shaped by a semester of cultural and environmental study in Monterrey, Mexico, and by a summer spent in Indonesia, where she worked with a local non-profit to develop a laboratory to test ceramic water filters for survivors of national disasters.
In Indonesia, Buckwalter witnessed the dangers of unsuitable waste disposal and lack of water-quality controls, along with the exploitation of poor families. The experience strengthened her commitment to water-pollution remediation.
"Esther has shown leadership on environmental issues on campus beyond her years," says James Jensen, PhD, professor of environmental engineering in UB's Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. "Rather than teach her, I often get out of her way so she can pursue engineered improvements to the environment."
Buckwalter was valedictorian at Alfred-Almond High School. At UB, she is secretary and event coordinator of UB's Engineers for a Sustainable World and helped organize the student club's national conference. She is a Tau Beta Pi inductee and a UB Honors College Presidential Scholar.
Buckwalter is currently involved in a project to explore the feasibility of reusing water extracted from the mechanized composting process at UB.