Samford University junior Alex Gerrish is the school's first recipient of a highly-competitive Udall Foundation scholarship.
As a Udall Scholar, Gerrish will receive up to $5,000 for her senior year. She is one of 80 students selected for the honor from among 585 candidates nominated by 274 schools.
Honorees were selected on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, health care or tribal public policy; leadership potential; and academic achievement.
"I am honored and delighted to be a Udall Scholar and join a group of past, current and future environmental leaders," said Gerrish, a Spanish major and sociology minor who hopes to pursue a career that combines her interests in Spanish and the environment.
The Louisville, Ky., resident is well known on the Samford campus for her commitment to environmental-related causes.
A leader and former co-president of the Samford chapter of Restoring Eden creation-care organization, she was a 2011 summer intern at the non-profit's national headquarters in Minnesota. Her activities have ranged from helping to start a community garden near campus to coordinating a student trip to a Power Shift youth climate conference in Washington, D.C. As a member of the Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment, she protested a strip coal mine that is located near a major source of water that supplies Birmingham.
Gerrish explains her commitment to the environment by noting her Christian faith and recalling a Restoring Eden bumper sticker that states, "If you love the Creator, take care of creation."
"I feel that caring for the environment is a reflection of my love for God, His physical creation, and those who depend on it," said Gerrish. "Secondly, I care about people and their well-being, and I have found that one way to care for people and struggling communities is to fight against environmental injustices and help people appreciate their natural environment. It is invigorating and fulfilling."
A member of Samford's University Fellows honors program, she is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society, the school's social justice committee, and other mission-minded groups.
Gerrish, daughter of Cathy and Jamie Gerrish, is spending the spring semester studying in Cordoba, Argentina, where she is honing her Spanish skills, experiencing another culture and adventuring.
She and other 2012 Udall Scholars will assemble in Tucson, Ariz., in August to receive their awards and meet policy makers and community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care and governance.