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Berkeley students win a sizable share of environmental fellowships

2011 Switzer Award Winners

From Left: Christian Casillas, Jessica Shade, Ryan Shaening Pokrasso, Kendra Klein

In August, the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation announced the winners of its half-million dollars worth of environmental fellowships and grants for 2011. There were 20 of them around the United States, master’s and Ph.D. students. Four — a fifth of the total — are pursuing studies at Berkeley.

Five more are students at UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara, meaning the UC system accounts for just shy of half of all of this year’s Switzer awards, which, the foundation says, are “merit-based and rigorously competitive.”

“The heart of the Switzer Foundation,” said its board chair, Jen Sokolove, “is about supporting environmental leaders who are able to think across traditional disciplinary boundaries and shape the future of environmental science, policy, and study.”

At Berkeley, each receiving $15,000 to complete their degrees and advance their skills, are four after the foundation’s heart:

  • Christian Casillas, a Ph.D. student in Energy and Resources who is working to equip communities with the knowledge to solve their environmental problems;
  • Kendra Klein, who wants to use her Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Ph.D. to create ecologically resilient, economically viable, and socially just food systems (Kendra won the Graduate Division’s Outstanding GSI Award in 2011);
  • Jessica Shade, who hopes, with her Integrative Biology Ph.D., to contribute to ecosystem restoration science through research and field studies (Jessica won the Graduate Division’s Outstanding GSI Award in 2009 and the Teaching Effectiveness Award in 2010); and
  • Ryan Shaening Pokrassso, who aims, armed with his J.D. in Environmental Law, to serve underrepresented communities impacted by irresponsible industry practices.

The application deadline these winners met was back in January 2011. Details on the next competition cycle will be announced in GradNews.

The Switzer Fellowships were created by a Cal alumnus, Bob Switzer, who came here on a Scaife Foundation scholarship to study chemistry, aiming at a career in medicine. His recovery from a severe head injury led to the invention, with his brother Joe, of the world’s first fluorescent paint, and a successful company, based on what Bob called Day-Glo colors. A lifelong environmentalist who also happened to be an executive in a regulated industry, Bob Switzer became concerned about a growing dearth of scientific expertise, so when the company sold in 1985, he used some of the proceeds to start the Switzer Foundation in order to help graduate students interested in solving environmental problems and to encourage them to become future environmental leaders.

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