The Wyss Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to land conservation in the Intermountain West, has announced its selection of three 2013 Wyss Scholars from Yale—Whitney Leonard LAW ’15, Hanna Mershman M.F. ’14 and Heather West M.E.M/M.B.A ’15. This is Yale’s 8th year participating in the Wyss scholars program, with the number of Yale Wyss Scholars now numbering 18.
"We are delighted that these three outstanding students have been honored in this way,” says F&ES Dean Peter Crane, “and we know that their contributions to western conservation efforts, now and in the future, will greatly benefit from their experiences as Wyss Scholars."
This is the first year that the Wyss Foundation selected a non-Forestry School student as a recipient. In the first seven years of the Wyss Scholars program, the previous 15 scholars were F&ES students, or joint degree students with the School of Management. Two years ago the Wyss Foundation expressed a desire to expand their scholars program to include students from other disciplines, recognizing that conservation issues in the Intermountain West will benefit from leaders with diverse training, skills and perspectives.
“The Wyss Foundation is proud to continue its partnership with Yale,” writes Molly McUsic, President of the Wyss Foundation, “and to support their long tradition of training the next generation of leaders in conservation and natural resource management. I know Hanna, Heather and Whitney will enrich this legacy through their dedication to service and passion for stewardship and land conservation.”
Whitney Leonard, a first-year law student was the first to benefit from this expansion of the program. "I think it's really important that the Wyss Foundation recognizes there are many different types of training and many career paths that can all contribute to Western land conservation,” says Whitney. “I am honored to have the program's support on my own route toward that goal."
The Wyss Scholars Program supports graduate-level education for up-and-coming leaders in western land conservation. The awards cover up to half the tuition and expenses needed to earn a master’s degree, and provides post-graduate payments to Wyss Scholars who gain employment working on western conservation issues. Scholars also receive funding to cover conservation work experience in summer research or internships, plus funding to conduct special programming on western land conservation issues while at Yale.
Yale is one of four universities participating in the program, including the University of Montana, University of Michigan and Northern Arizona University. Since the program’s inception in 2006, more than 60 Wyss scholars have benefited nationwide and are emerging as the next generation of environmental leaders in the West.
One of those emerging leaders, Avery Anderson M.E.M. ’08, is Executive Director of the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, dedicated to building economic and ecological resilience in western working landscapes. “I was a part of the first Wyss Scholar class at F&ES (2006), and the opportunities afforded to me by Wyss have made all the difference. I was introduced to the grass and roots of western conservation during my summer graduate internship, and ultimately landed with a remarkable land stewardship organization. As a young Executive Director for Quivira, I feel humbled by the magnitude of the challenges that lie before us in western landscape conservation, and excited by the strength of our partnerships and depth of our commitment. Wyss started the ball rolling for me, and I intend to amplify the value of their initial investment.”
Former Wyss Scholars are part of an alumni network that hopes to meet annually to exchange professional experience and work collaboratively to achieve greater conservation success.
“Every summer, past and present Wyss Scholars convene a workshop in a different western town,” says Greg Zimmerman M.E.M. ’12, Policy Director of the Center for Western Priorities in Denver, and former Wyss Scholar. “The workshops challenge us to think critically about conservation challenges and opportunities unique to the Intermountain West, and provide a venue for current Scholars and alumni from different universities to meet and network.”
Next year’s Wyss Scholars program will be announced in the fall. Interested students can contact Alex Muro in the F&ES Financial Aid office to learn more.
About the Yale Awardees
Whitney Leonard is dedicated to finding integrated, cross-disciplinary solutions to conservation challenges through litigation and advocacy. During her three years with the Natural Resources Defense Council, she ran a citizen science program through which she recruited and trained locals to collect data on wildlife and forest health. Participating in a yearlong working group on bison management, she learned to “lead by example from within a group” and bridge divides to help disparate stakeholders find consensus.
Hanna Mershman looks ahead to a career in forest and fire management in the West. At the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, she led a group of 10 female prison inmates to fight fire on wildlands, plant trees and maintain recreation sites, sustaining a positive attitude and creating a highly productive team in this challenging assignment. Later, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mexico, Hanna facilitated the creation of sustainable recycling and waste management programs within a protected land area, trained rural volunteer firefighters and developed a community-run Environmental Education Center.
Heather West is dedicated to understanding and improving the relationships of individuals and their natural environments, with the intention of bringing together unique stakeholders to achieve large-scale land conservation. At Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, Heather served as chief mentor and teaching assistant to undergraduates on a three-week exploration of the Colorado River watershed with 20 Stanford faculty, TAs and students. She also led a student internship program placing undergraduates in government and nonprofit organizations along the West Coast.