UGA students win Udall Scholarships

Both plan to pursue careers in conservation and environmental protection

The University of Georgia added two new Udall Scholars to its ranks this spring as third-year Honors students Elizabeth Esser and Kathryn Foral were recognized for their leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to the environment.

They were among 55 undergraduates selected from across the nation and U.S. territories for the Udall Scholarship, which is awarded to sophomores and juniors on the basis of their commitment to careers in the environment, Native health care or Tribal public policy. The scholarship provides up to $7,000 for eligible academic expenses.

With the addition of Esser and Foral, UGA has had 15 Udall Scholars in the past 10 years and 21 total since the scholarship was first awarded in 1996.

“Elizabeth and Kate are such wonderful and deserving recipients of the Udall Scholarship,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of UGA’s Honors Program. “I know them each to be very dedicated individuals. I look forward to observing all of the future positive contributions they each will make.”

Esser, a Foundation Fellow from Grafton, Wisconsin, is majoring in genetics and ecology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Odum School of Ecology, respectively. Foral, who is from Augusta, is earning dual bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental health in the College of Public Health.

Both plan to pursue careers in conservation and environmental protection at the governmental level—Esser as a government researcher who uses genetic techniques to conserve endangered species and Foral as a sustainability coordinator for a local municipality, involving residents in the protection of their natural resources.

Esser aims to increase the ways in which genetics is applied to conservation efforts, focusing on genetic techniques to help endangered species and mitigate the effects of invasive species. Following a year of conservation work in a national park, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics.

Three of the four research projects Esser has participated in have direct connections to the environment. She assessed a newly developed protocol for genetic manipulation with Douglas Menke, associate professor and director of the Developmental Biology Alliance; helped genotype Kinorynches in Norwegian fjords while visiting Norway; and created a more accurate model of oceanic larval dispersal with Jeb Byers, Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor of Ecology. She also assisted in creating a prioritization system for molecular testing in zoos.

Her involvement at UGA includes being a service ambassador for ServeUGA and a volunteer animal socializer with Animal Control and active in the PAL Mentorship Program, the Society of Conservation Biology, the Genetic Education Network and Experience Club, Women in Science, UGArden, Campus Kitchen, STEMzone educational booth, and Campus Stream Cleanup. Esser has been a CURO research assistant and is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society.

Foral’s goal is to increase civic engagement and collective participation in the process of environmental protection, focused on the idea that environmental health and public health are intertwined.

As a water quality intern with the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, Foral coordinated volunteer water quality monitoring events and designed a site study to determine the cause of a potential pollution source. She was also a contact tracer on the COVID Response Team for the Georgia Department of Public Health, an Environmental Sustainability Fellow with She Grows It consulting group and an environmental educator and counselor with Camp Weequahic.

Foral is an Honors Policy Scholar, Crane Leadership Scholar, member of the Dean William Tate Honor Society, and recipient of the Research Assistantship Award and the Experiential Learning Scholarship. She presented at the TEDxUGA student series and was a research assistant with the Health Policy Research Lab. She was president of UGArden, team lead for Triple Impact Consulting and sustainability chair for the Student Government Association and was involved with Bag the Bag, UGAvotes, Georgia Adopt-A-Stream, the Eco Incubator, Georgia Democrats, Georgia Adopt-A-Highway, Rivers Alive, and Mobile Health UGA. She played mellophone in the Redcoat Marching Band.

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