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OHIO sophomore among 55 students in America selected for coveted Udall scholarship

OHIO student Melissa Damico has been selected for the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year, highlighting her environmental research efforts. 

The Udall Foundation awards scholarships based on leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to the environment or Native American nations. 

Damico is a sophomore environmental studies major in the Honors Tutorial College with a minor in sociology and is also working towards a certificate in law, justice and culture. She is among 55 students from 48 colleges and universities across the United States selected as 2020 Udall Scholars. There were also 55 honorable mentions. 

“Being awarded the Udall Scholarship is an enormous achievement,” OHIO President M. Duane Nellis said. “I am very proud of Melissa and commend her for her research and for being selected for this prestigious award of excellence.”

Each scholarship provides up to $7,000 for the scholar’s junior or senior year. Since the first awards in 1996, the Udall Foundation has awarded 1,733 scholarships totaling $8,860,000. 

Last summer, Damico conducted research with Dr. Geoff Dabelko, professor and associate dean in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, through the Honors Tutorial College Apprentice Program. That program helped fund Damico’s research into studying  if what makes a community “Age-Friendly,” as defined by the World Health Organization, is similar to what makes a community climate resilient. 

This research was done as part of a new collaboration, called the Grey-Green Alliance, with partners at the Ohio State University College of Social Work, Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County. 

“To get that national recognition for your work is really uplifting and makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing,” Damico said. “It’s really nice affirmation that the work we’re doing with the Grey-Green Alliance with OSU and the Voinovich School is helping people and recognized through the Udall Scholarship.”

Last summer, Damico made an emergency preparedness tool for older adults in Franklin County, looking specifically at challenges facing older adults combined with the projected climate impacts in the Midwest area and in Ohio. She then compiled a list of resources that could help mitigate those vulnerabilities.

“Melissa led our initial investigations and community consultations that confirmed our suspicion that there are numerous possible synergies yet still relatively little interdisciplinary scholarship or collaborative practice,” Dabelko said. 

She also received the Provost Undergraduate Research Fund to do a test run of her emergency preparedness packet for Franklin County, where she presented the resource to older adults to give feedback. 

“That was a really great experience; I got to present some of my work to them and they were really helpful,” Damico said. 

Damico is now looking at how to translate those findings and is working with officials to make Athens an “Age-Friendly” community, city- and county-wide.

“All of the faculty I have interacted with at OHIO and in the Voinovich School, friends at Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County, and HTC have been so helpful with my research and I would not have won the Udall without their gracious support,” Damico said.

Damico has also been selected as a Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholar for next fall semester, and she plans to continue her research with Dabelko. 

“Melissa is a diligent, smart, curious, humble, dedicated, and independent person,” Dabelko said. “I am confident she will be one of the small handful of students whom I will remember at the end of my career when I reminisce about the ones who really maximized their potential and made a difference.” 

This is the sixth year in a row OHIO has had a Udall winner, with 11 awardees and four honorable mentions overall. 

The 2020 Udall Scholars plan to assemble Aug. 4-9 in Tucson, Arizona, to meet one another and program alumni; learn more about the Udall legacy of public service; and interact with community leaders in environmental fields, Tribal health care and governance.

For more information about Damico’s research and the Grey-Green Alliance, check out this YouTube video produced by OHIO senior Winter Wilson.

May 7, 2020
Jalyn Bolyard