The Charger Blog

Environmental Science Graduate Student Earns Prestigious Environmental Fellowship

Olivia Walton ’19 M.S., who earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resources from Cornell University, is the first University of New Haven student to earn a Switzer Environmental Fellowship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation.

February 20, 2019

By Courtney Pintabone ’19 M.A. and Dave Cranshaw, Office of Marketing & Communications

Image of Olivia Walton ’19 M.A.
Olivia Walton ’19 M.A. interacts with children on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of Robert Rattner)

Olivia Walton '19 M.S. has long been dedicated to promoting environmental education to kids. “To protect the future of our environment, we must teach children to love the Earth,” she says.

She has been able to take this commitment to an even higher level as the first University of New Haven student to earn a Switzer Environmental Fellowship, a $15,000 research award from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. She was one of 20 emerging environmental leaders pursuing graduate degrees – who are dedicated to making positive environmental change – chosen nationwide for the fellowship.

The grant has enabled Walton, a native of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix, to expand her thesis research that centers on developing and assessing conservation education approaches for primary school children living on Bahamian and Caribbean islands.

“Olivia is deeply committed to the human condition and to bettering our environment."Roman Zajac, Ph.D.

During her second semester as a graduate student, she traveled to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas to meet with the primary school principal and teachers. Last summer, she conducted a week of in-class and field lessons and had the students present their reflections at the Gerace Research Center, which has a longstanding partnership with the University. Walton has also participated in an outdoor educators clinic conducted by University of New Haven professor emeritus Larry Davis before his retirement.

The goal of Walton’s thesis work is to determine what approaches may be the most effective in teaching the students on San Salvador Island about their environment and related conservation efforts.

Image of Olivia Walton '19 M.S.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Walton/Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation

“Olivia has developed an incredible rapport with the children and the teachers, which very much engages them in conservation education and portends well for the success of conserving the island’s natural resources,” says Roman Zajac, Walton’s adviser and program coordinator for the University’s M.S. in environmental science. “Her work will act as a model for other conservation education efforts in the Caribbean and, more generally, for costal environments.”

Zajac, who is working with Walton on a separate project that involves mapping and studying the ecological characterization of the Long Island Sound’s seafloor, also praised Walton for organizing a drive soon after she arrived on campus in 2017 to collect supplies that were sent to St. Croix following Hurricane Maria.

“Olivia is deeply committed to the human condition and to bettering our environment,” he says

Walton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resources from Cornell, says she was attracted to the University of New Haven by the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Zajac. “I have learned that being as attentive to the progress you are making, as you are to reaching your goal, is the true secret to success,” she says.

“I have learned that being as attentive to the progress you are making, as you are to reaching your goal, is the true secret to success."Olivia Walton '19 M.S.

Beyond the financial support for her research, Walton is especially enthusiastic about the connections she is making through her fellowship.

“It is an incredible award that not only provides significant monetary support for my research, but it also gives me access to a great network of leaders in the environmental field,” she says. “At our first retreat for the 10 fellows from New England, I was blown away by the range of groundbreaking research topics.”

Ultimately, one of the most rewarding aspects of her research has been collaborating with individuals who, like her, are of Caribbean descent.

“Working with fellow Caribbean people has been one of the most inspiring and remarkable experiences I will take with me long after graduating from the University,” she says.