Saving the environment is a daunting task, but Dominic Scicchitano '19 wants to do his part — even if it's one community at a time.
"I've been concerned about environmental protection at large for a long time, but my time at Bucknell is helping me learn how people can be empowered to work on it on a community level," he said. "It's a unique approach that is often overlooked in favor of bigger, high-level regulations."
Scicchitano, who majors in Spanish and environmental studies, will now have even more support as he moves toward his goals. In April, he was honored with an Udall Scholarship, a prestigious award administered by the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation, an office of the executive branch of the federal government.
The scholarship is named for brothers Morris and Stewart Udall, both of whom were long-serving members of Congress who emphasized environmental protection and stewardship. It provides up to $7,000 to college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to Native American nations or the environment. Only 60 are awarded nationwide, making the process extremely competitive; in addition to rigorous academic requirements, applicants must demonstrate commitment to campus activities and service to the community.
"It's more common for this scholarship to go to a junior, so I was very pleasantly surprised to get it in my sophomore year," Scicchitano said. "The foundation has values that I strongly agree with."
Scicchitano was nominated by Professor G.C. Waldrep, English, and went through what he called a "rigorous" application process. He found out just before winter break that he had been selected as Bucknell's applicant and was awarded the scholarship, becoming the University's first Udall Scholar since 2009.
Within his major, one of Scicchitano's central interests is how communities and the accompanying infrastructure interact with — and have an impact on — their environment. It's a pressing concern in areas like Latin American countries, where people live and work every day among some of the most abundant rainforests in the world. Scicchitano said he hopes to work in those countries, which was why he also chose Spanish as a major.
A sense of place
Scicchitano's involvement with an infrastructure impact project conducted by the Place Studies Program last year was good practice for those future career plans. The Mount Carmel Public Library needed an assessment on developing an adjacent vacant lot into a reading garden, and Scicchitano's role was to conduct a comparative study with garden park areas in Berwick — which happens to be his hometown — and Milton, towns of similar size and infrastructure. This would help the library better understand the impact of its reading garden and help it apply for appropriate grants and other funding.
However, not content with a mere comparison, Scicchitano took it upon himself to dive deeper into his project, which was funded by a scholarship from the Bucknell Public Interest Program.
"In Milton and Berwick, Dominic made lists of the names on every commemorative plaque or sign of who was involved with the planning and execution of the gardens, then he tracked them down and interviewed them on the process," said Shaunna Barnhart, director of the Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment's Place Studies Program, who has worked closely with Scicchitano. "He created reports on best practices for the Mount Carmel project based on those interviews. It was an example of taking what he's learned in the classroom and applying it to a real-life situation.
"He took a lot of initiative, and it's because he has a genuine drive to dedicate what he does to how communities and environments interact," she added.
A junior fellow in the Environmental Residential College and a member of the University's Gender & Sexuality Alliance, Scicchitano also works for the Susquehanna Greenways Partnership and hopes to obtain a master's degree in global environmental policy after his time at Bucknell. Educating people about their environment at a community level is his long-term goal, but he knows that it's also important to promote a broad understanding of current environmental issues — and that there are a lot of bright spots on the horizon.
"This current political climate especially has the potential to take the wind out of people's sails with regard to the environment," he said. "It's important to remind them otherwise — that a lot of good things are happening and have the potential to happen."
Other recent scholarship winners include Lisa Francomacaro '18 and Mae Lacey '18, who earned Goldwater scholarships in the sciences, and Savanna Morrison '18, who earned a Beinecke Scholarship supporting graduate studies of students in the arts, humanities and social sciences.