When Chancellor Robert Khayat’s office asked to meet with Alecia Waite about environmental issues, the student leader and activist immediately prepared herself to show how UM could improve its recycling efforts. But Khayat had a different agenda—namely, a surprise reception to congratulate Waite on winning a 2008 Morris K. Udall Scholarship.
Waite, a senior international studies and Chinese major, is one of 69 students who intend to pursue careers related to the environment, a topic that Udall was passionate about during his 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. More than 500 applicants were nominated for the award, representing 239 colleges and universities.
Waite aspires to teach international studies at the collegiate level, with a special focus on U.S. and Chinese environmental policy. Though she’d been active with the UM environmental group Roots and Shoots, it was a month-long internship in Beijing, China that gave her a new perspective on how climate change affects urban areas. During her daily two-hour commute, Waite said she inhaled raspy and dusty air, and “enough exhaust to give me a headache every morning.”
“It is easy to envision environmental concerns in terms of melting icebergs, deforestation and other tangible images, but cities are full of environmental concerns that can be just as tragic,” Waite wrote in her Udall application. “The number one cause of hospitalizations in Beijing is air-pollution related diseases. The experience of living in a city with such vast environmental challenges as Beijing inspired me to adopt an urban focus in my research.”
That passion, along with her tireless work ethic, has earned Waite many fans among faculty and staff.
“She’s deeply committed to the environment,” said SMBHC Assistant Dean Debra Young, who coached Waite on her Udall application. “It goes bone-deep with her. Knowing her, she’ll be disappointed this meeting she expected with the Chancellor wasn’t what she thought it would be.”
Young was only partially wrong.
“It’s funny, because I was cramming for the meeting, so I’d be ready,” she said. “I’m not disappointed. But you can tell Dr. Khayat that I’d still like to meet with him on environmental issues.”