Elizabeth Austin ’24 has been selected to receive a Udall Foundation Scholarship in acknowledgement of her work in the field of conservation paleontology, which uses past climate records through geology and paleontology to inform future environmental decisions.

As a Udall Scholar, Austin, of Memphis, Tennessee, will receive a $7,000 grant and will participate in a weeklong orientation in Tucson, Arizona, where scholars will meet with program alumni, learn more about the Udall legacy of public service, and interact with community leaders in environmental fields. 

A joint major in environmental studies and earth and climate sciences, Austin was one of 55 students selected among 384 candidates in the categories of the environment, tribal public policy, and Native health care. Candidates are also chosen based on leadership potential, record of public service, and academic achievement.

With the scholarship, Austin will conduct climate research with a focus on environmental  justice. “The field of earth and climate sciences was founded from a viewpoint that historically excluded Black and indigenous people — those most impacted by forms of environmental injustice,” she explained. “I hope to address the inequities in this field and make information accessible to stakeholders by directly involving them in my research.”

Austin selected coursework at Middlebury that will help her integrate inclusive and accessible practices into the study of environmental studies. She has taken courses and conducted research focusing on indigenous rights, disability studies, environmental policy, and food sovereignty, to balance hard sciences with social justice.

“I believe that this approach will strengthen my research as a scientist, while centering empathy and justice in my work,” she said.

Austin served as co-president and meditation leader for the Prajna Meditation Club at Middlebury’s Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, where she led weekly meditations and taught mindfulness practices.  

During her sophomore and junior year, Austin engaged in an independent study doing research on the pollen and plant material preserved in packrat middens—the fossilized remains of ancient woodrat nests. She has presented her work for national and international audiences, including at the Shoals Marine Laboratory, the Geological Society of America, and the Conservation Paleobiology Research Network.

She interned at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History evaluating how the fur trade has impacted current ecological systems and indigenous people. She is currently working with the Conservation Paleobiology Research Network and the LaBrea Tar Pits, an active paleontological research site in urban Los Angeles. 

About the Udall Foundation Scholarship

The Morris K. and Stuart L. Udall Foundation was established by the U.S. Congress in 1992 to honor the Udalls’ lasting impact on this nation’s environment, public lands, and natural resources, and their support for the rights and self-governance of American Indians and Native Alaskans.

In addition to its undergraduate scholarship program, the foundation also supports a Congressional internship, the Native Nations Institute, a Parks in Focus program, the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.