Environmental policy is often supported by science, but Rachel Merriman-Goldring ’17 believes in also enacting change through art. For the past three years, the environmental policy and government double major has been studying non-traditional ways to educate communities on environmental issues through the use of graphic design, data visualization and public art projects.
One of these was seen on the William & Mary campus in the fall of 2014: a floating art installation near the Crim Dell Bridge that used an old fishing boat and oyster shells to illustrate the decline in oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay.
“My installation made a distant statistic about bivalves in the bay far more immediate,” she said. “For the first time, this effort allowed me to combine my love of environmental education with my love of art. It was thrilling to realize that two things I care about so much can coexist and reinforce each other. The process of producing this installation inspired me to do more.”
It’s this unique approach to environmental education that garnered interest from the Udall Foundation, which recently selected Merriman-Goldring as one of their 2016 scholars. As a scholarship recipient, Merriman-Goldring will be awarded up to $7,000 and will spend a long weekend in Tucson, Arizona, this summer meeting and sharing ideas with other scholars, professionals and Udall alumni. Scholars also become involved in the Udall alumni network, allowing them to meet and work with other individuals who are similarly passionate about the environment. Liz Jacob ’17 received an Honorable Mention in this year’s competition.
Established in 1992 to honor Congressmen Morris and Stewart Udall, who were instrumental in enacting legislation that benefitted the environment and American Indians, the Udall Scholarship is reserved for sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or American Indian healthcare. This year, 60 undergraduates were selected from a pool of 482 applicants nationwide who had been nominated by their universities.
“I loved the idea of a scholarship aimed solely at students interested in the environment, and Morris and Stewart Udall, the men for whom the scholarship is named, are great inspirations for any aspiring environmentalist,” said Merriman-Goldring.
Merriman-Goldring’s own environmental aspirations began to flourish as a high school junior when she took a week-long sailing trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to learn about the region’s environmental plights.
“Everyone talked about oysters,” she said. “I remember being shocked when I found out that oysters had fallen to less than 1 percent of historical highs. It frustrated me that legislative inaction and poor regulatory enforcement had led to the precipitous drop in oyster populations.”
That trip later became the inspiration for her freshman year Monroe research project, and led to a deeper exploration of environmental issues plaguing the bay and beyond. Alan C. Braddock, Ralph H. Wark Associate Professor of Art History and American Studies, taught the “Art and Ecology” class that stimulated Merriman-Goldring’s interest in merging art with environmental education, and said she is the perfect candidate for the Udall Scholarship.
“She brings extraordinary enthusiasm and a commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry in addressing environmental issues,” he said. “In addition to taking coursework in environmental studies, she has proactively pursued extracurricular projects to implement her ideas for environmental education.”
This past fall, Merriman-Goldring co-curated an interdisciplinary art exhibition that educated the public on Virginia factory farms. She also volunteers as a Clean Water Captain with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), advocating environmentally-friendly practices in the Williamsburg, Virginia area, and using art and graphics to help make CBF's outreach efforts more accessible. And, as the Environmental Art Chairman for Williamsburg’s Triangle Arts and Culture League, she is working to bring more environmentally-minded public art installations to the community.
“I’m ultimately interested in finding ways to bring about the social change needed to create political and structural changes that are crucial for environmental protection,” she said. “At this point, I’m interested in doing that through non-curricular environmental education, with a focus on art-based approaches that integrate environmental justice.”
Sophomores and juniors interested in applying for the Udall Scholarship this academic year should contact Lisa Grimes (firstname.lastname@example.org).