Two Iowa State students named Udall Scholars

AMES, Iowa — Two Iowa State University students have been named Udall Scholars for 2019 — the first time since 2001 that more than one ISU student has been selected for the honor in the same academic year.

Carissa Moyna, a junior in civil engineering from Elkader; and Jacob Wright, a junior in agronomy and environmental studies from Weyers Cave, Virginia, are two of 55 students from across the United States selected for the prestigious award. The Udall Foundation awards scholarships for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to the environment or Native American nations.

Moyna and Wright were selected as Udall Scholars from 443 candidates nominated by 227 colleges and universities.

Building a better future 

Carissa Moyna

Carissa Moyna

As a young girl, Moyna caught the engineering and construction bug by watching her father, who manages a road construction business. And it was a construction internship during her time at Iowa State that focused Moyna’s passion on sustainable construction practices.

“Buildings currently are constructed as quickly as possible to generate the most profit; however, those very buildings will impact the environment for up to 50 years. Construction is the most crucial time to ensure proper design and reduction of the building’s environmental footprint,” Moyna wrote in her application. “I aim to improve this flawed process by forming a foundation of knowledge studying civil engineering and sustainability and integrating this into my career.”

Moyna says “persistent leadership” will define her career, as she advocates for the environment in the building industry.

“It is not only my job, but my obligation, to embody persistence and authenticity as the kind of leader Morris Udall calls us to be,” Moyna wrote in her application.

Her goal is to one day launch an environmentally focused design-build firm to construct buildings “to sustain rather than degrade our world.” She is a member of the Green Energy Challenge Team, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Honors Program and Women in Science and Engineering.

She has also translated her passion for the environment into action in high school and at Iowa State. In high school, Moyna helped develop the first on-site school compost system in Iowa, diverting 7.2 tons of food waste from the landfill in the program’s first year. At Iowa State, she led a team to test the effectiveness of compost on weed reduction in campus landscaping.

‘Helping people help the land’ 

Jacob Wright

Jacob Wright

Wright’s upbringing also played a major role in his career aspirations. He grew up on a dairy farm in rural Virginia, sparking his passion for agriculture and studying the effects of erosion and nutrient runoff on the waters of the nearby Chesapeake Bay.

At Iowa State, Wright has furthered his commitment to sustainable agriculture by studying soil quality and conservation practices. Wright said his internship with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Napa, California, last summer was a humbling experience as he was able to work with landowners wanting to repair their forests and vineyards after the devastating wildfires. Wright embodies NRCS’ mission: “helping people help the land.”

The words of the late Congressman Morris Udall, for whom this scholarship is named, resonated with Wright. More than four decades ago, Udall said, “Don’t let anyone tell you that being for the environment means you have to be against progress.” Wright said he also believes protecting the environment does not mean restricting agricultural innovation.

“[Udall’s] realistic and practical rationale that environmental stewardship does not lead to a declining economy has inspired my own ideas and helped to define my career goals,” Wright wrote in his application. “I want to show farmers how protecting their soil and water will increase their long-term profitability.”

Wright is editor in chief of “Getting Into Soil and Water,” an annual publication through the Iowa Water Center and the ISU Soil and Water Conservation Club, for which he serves as vice president. He is active with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Student Council, Agronomy Club and the Iowa Corn Growers Collegiate Club. Wright is also a member of the Collegiate Soil Judging Team.

Each Udall Scholar receives a scholarship of up to $7,000. This year’s scholars will attend a leadership conference Aug. 6-11 in Tucson, Arizona.

Laura Good, assistant director for nationally competitive awards and university honors at Iowa State, coordinates nominations and works with applicants. ISU committee members who helped select and work with this year's Udall candidates were Mary Wiedenhoeft, professor of agronomy; Tom Brumm, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering; Arne Hallam, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Heidi Hohmann, associate professor of landscape architecture.