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Student Activist for the Environment Wins 2010 Udall Scholarship

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Alexander Thorp

Alexander Thorp, a sophomore in the School of International Service, has been named a 2010 Udall Scholar. The scholarship, intended for sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care, provides $5,000 toward each scholar’s education and a week of leadership training. Alex is one of 80 Udall Scholars selected from a national pool of 537 candidates.

Alex has a career focus of advocating for more sustainable and livable cities by working for a metropolitan planning authority as an urban planner, an interest that developed before he arrived at AU.

"My passion for sustainable urban planning comes from my upbringing in the peculiar suburban town of Southlake, Texas,” said Thorp. “I lived there during a profound transformation from agrarian to suburban. I saw the changes that happened throughout the city and in the people as well.”

Although Alex knew sustainability was important to him, it wasn’t until he arrived on campus that he figured out how to incorporate all his interests into an academic program. “[I had] never quite found the niche where I could combine something which affects me on a very personal level…with my desire to make a positive impact on the world,” he said. “[But] the resources that SIS provides for its undergraduate students are astounding.”

Alex jumped right into the AU experience and has gained recognition several times throughout his short college career. In 2009, Alex was one of 19 undergraduates nationwide to receive the Canadian Killam Fellowship which has allowed him to spend this semester studying urban planning and geography at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to being an Udall Scholar and Killam Fellow, in 2009 Alex won the Norwegian Embassy Essay Contest which funded him to travel to the University of Tromso in northern Norway to discuss Arctic science and politics with environmental experts. Alex has also been chosen as a recipient of a 2010 American University Undergraduate Research Grant.

Key to Alex’s success in winning national scholarships has been pursuing as many opportunities as possible and using each application as a chance to further clarify his career goals. “It never hurts to try,” he said. “The effort that staff [in the Office of Merit Awards] put into helping you think about where you want to go and how best to get there is incredible. Winning ends up being almost a bonus for the application process.”

Of course, Alex’s leadership abilities and unwavering commitment to the environment have also contributed to his success. According to instructor Eve Bratman, one of his scholarship mentors, “Alex’s pursuit of political ecology issues is heartfelt and his engagement in environmental issues goes well beyond the classroom.” Assistant professor Simon Nicholson also mentored Alex.

Alex is active on campus with the student environmental club, Eco-Sense, and last semester arranged for AU students to attend the congressional hearings on national climate change. He is also active off campus and may add filmmaking to his list of accomplishments—he and his sister plan to produce a documentary this summer about the damaging effects car-centric lifestyles have on the environment.

Alex is one of eight Udall Scholars from American University. In 2008 AU was among the top three universities in the country with three scholars named that year.