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Lena Connor Named Udall Scholar, Jennifer Schmidt Receives Honorable Mention

Lena Connor ’13 has won a 2012 Udall Scholarship, which are awarded to sophomore and junior college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care. The scholarship is up to $5,000 for tuition, room and board or other educational expenses. Jennifer Schmidt ’14 received an honorable mention and a $350 award.

The 2012 class of Udall scholars consists of 80 students selected from 585 candidates nominated by 274 colleges and universities. The review committee also awarded 50 Honorable Mentions. The awards are made by the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, one of five federal foundations established by Congress.

Connor, an environmental analysis major, plans to pursue an advanced degree and a career in Christian environmental ethics, either in academia or through nonprofit work. She attributes her passion for the environment to her mother’s long-time dedication to environmental issues and summers spent at a camp in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she says, “I first discovered the spiritual peace of living in a biodiverse, lush environment.”

Connor co-founded her high school’s first environmental club and was soon participating in many national student campaigns, through the Sierra Student Coalition. The summer after her freshman year at Pomona, she and high school friends launched an Iowa City branch of the national student campaign Summer of Solutions, recruiting 20 students to start a community dialog on about sustainability. The outreach effort was capped by a daylong conference with representatives from throughout the community creating a comprehensive sustainability plan for the city.

Last summer, Connor received a Mellon Foundation grant and traveled to the community of Rosario da Limiera, in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, where she worked with a sustainable development nonprofit and conducted independent research on how an incoming bauxite mining operation was affecting the community’s development and globalization. She also observed the Catholic community protest against mining. “The beautiful environmental ethic of the priests and their parishioners, and the way that they seamlessly connected human and ecological well-being cemented my resolve that Christian environmental activism was a viable life goal,” says Connor.

Connor spent last fall studying at Oxford, where she designed a tutorial in Christian environmental ethics with theologian Dr. Andrew Moore and will spend the summer interning with the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program, in Washington, D.C., and doing field work on mining in Christian communities in Appalachia for her thesis, which will be a cross comparative analysis of Christian environmental thought in rural Brazil and rural America.

For Connor, “The antagonism about environmental stewardship within the Christian community shows that there is still a great deal of theological uncertainty about whether sustainable living is a natural extension of the Christian ethic or a co-opting of the faith tradition. I think that it is important that theologians, or simply Christian authors and writers, give Christian congregations the language by which to address issues such as climate change, food ethics, resource exploitation, globalization and habitat conservation. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a wealth of existing environmental thought in traditional Christian doctrine, though such a focus on the creation has been muted since the Protestant Reformation and the industrial revolution.”

At Pomona, Connor has been a member of the ASPC Environmental Quality Committee, a student representative on the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, and is a co-founder and the current chair of the 5C Environmental Council, which facilitates communication between student activist groups and the 5C Environmental Analysis Department. Earlier this month, she was elected the 2012-13 ASPC Commissioner for Environmental Affairs. She is also active in the Pomona Student Union and a member of both the campus a cappella group Mood Swing and the Pomona College Concert Choir.

Connor grew up in Lake Wales, FL, until high school when her family moved to Iowa City, IA, where she graduated from Iowa City West High School. She is the daughter of Dave and Barbara Connor, who are again residents of Lake Wales and has a sister, Rose, who attends Bartow High School.