Student Focus - Michael Parker and Laura Wood
Two University of Maine students have received the Morris K. Udall Scholarship. Established in 1992 to commemorate Udall’s 30 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Morris K. Udall Foundation encourages college students “to preserve and protect their national heritage through studies in the environment and Native American health and tribal public policy.” The scholarship is considered the highest national recognition for students in environmental fields.
Laura Wood of Scarborough, an honors student and Ecology and Environmental Sciences major, and Michael Parker of Bradford, a Mechanical Engineering major, are among 80 Udall Scholars chosen from 515 applicants nationwide. A total of four UMaine students have received Udall Scholarships, and two have received honorable mentions, since the program’s inception.
It is unusual for two students from one university to receive the scholarship — only 12 campuses share that honor this year. Mark Anderson, Wood’s adviser and a professor in UMaine’s Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program and the School of Economics, says this underscores UMaine’s longstanding commitment to environmental studies.
“One of the most underappreciated elements of the curriculum and faculty at UMaine is our strength in environmental issues in general,” Anderson says. “I think there’s a sense that all of this ‘green’ stuff is new, but it’s not new at all. We’ve been training students in these areas for a long time. Right now, the governor is talking about green jobs, but I’ve had graduates going into green jobs for the last 30 years.”
Wood, a junior, is no stranger to prestigious congressional scholarships. She is the past recipient of the George J. Mitchell Scholarship and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship. In addition, she is a dedicated volunteer and a standout student. Her experience as a Hollings Scholar sparked her interest in NOAA’s Coastal Environmental Initiative, which she may explore after graduation. Program participants track human waste disposal along the Florida coast and manage impacts on the coral reefs. On campus, Wood has worked with UMaine’s facilities management directors and dining services managers to learn about composting, waste management and recycling efforts.
“UMaine has taught me not only general classroom knowledge and career skills, but how to be a leader and active citizen,” Wood says. “I also have to say that I have been fortunate to have had fantastic professors who really displayed experience and expertise in their subject, while at the same time being available to students.”
Parker’s honor is a landmark for UMaine, where these scholarships typically go to students in the environmental sciences and ecology, rather than mechanical engineering. But his research and involvement on and off campus set him apart.
“Generally, this doesn’t happen to mechanical engineers,” says Jean MacRae, an associate professor of environmental engineering and faculty adviser to the UMaine chapter of Engineers Without Borders. “Mechanical engineers can have a huge impact on the environment if attention is paid to efficiency. Michael sees the whole picture. He’s a mechanical engineer, but he totally gets the environmental thing and he totally gets the social thing.”
Parker serves as the president of Engineers Without Borders at UMaine. He has been integral in helping the community of Dulce Nombre, Honduras, work toward sustainable water and sanitation solutions. In Orono, he is an active member of the Green Campus Initiative, and he has worked to renovate a building on campus to meet LEED certification standards. The idea of offshore wind power intrigues him, and to that end, he is considering staying on for his master’s degree at UMaine and working with the AEWC Advanced Structures & Composites Center.
“Mechanical engineering has been my vocation and sustainability has been my big avocation,” says Parker, who is also a junior. “In recent months, I’ve studied how to integrate these things. … There are a lot of opportunities to make technical developments that make an impact on the sustainability of our country, whether through wind power or more efficient HVAC systems, and there is the need for people.