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Biology major Katharine Leigh '15 wins Udall scholarship

Kat Leigh

Katharine (Kat) Leigh ’15, a biology major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with interests in environmental resource economics and international development, has received a 2014 Morris K. Udall Scholarship.

The scholarship provides $5,000 toward tuition for undergraduates intending to pursue careers related to the environment, and to Native American and Alaskan native undergraduates pursuing careers in health care or tribal public policy. This year, 50 students were selected from among 489 candidates nominated by 228 colleges and universities on the basis of their leadership, service, academic achievement and commitment.

Leigh’s efforts revolve around ocean conservation. She advises the purchasing units of Cornell Dining and the Statler Hotel on sustainable seafood. Consequently, Cornell Dining has increased its percentage of sustainable seafood offerings, and the Statler has nearly eliminated all red-listed items.

Leigh also has organized various initiatives educating the campus on sustainable seafood, including “Make Your Own Sustainable Sushi Night” at Robert Purcell Community Center and a weeklong lecture series during student orientation on seafood and ocean conservation, which culminated in a sushi and cocktail event at Ithaca’s Museum of the Earth.

“After completing a Ph.D. in marine biology, I plan to work for [a nongovernmental organization] … most likely addressing food insecurity,” she said. Subsequently, she hopes to become a science and technology policy fellow at the Congressional branch of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “to provide a new perspective on marine legislation.”

Leigh added that she wants to spend her career “on comprehensive sustainable development, responsible science and the alleviation of global marine inequalities. … [and] prioritize the equitable sharing of ocean-derived benefits by increasing the participation of coastal communities in fisheries and associated industries … . [It is only] by promoting diversity at the biological, social and economic level through the use of scientific research can we truly preserve the ecological health of the oceans and ensure the equitable harvest of marine resources.”

Leigh, who hails from California, is studying at the University of Singapore this semester and will pursue an internship in the mangrove forests of Indonesia this summer.

Since 1998, Cornell students have garnered more than 30 Udall Scholarships, making Cornell one of the most successful institutions in the country in the competition.

The scholarships are sponsored by the Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Foundation. The independent federal agency was established by Congress in 1992 to honor Arizona Congressman Morris K. Udall and amended in 2009 to honor his brother Stewart L. Udall, secretary of the interior during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Students interested in applying for fellowships can contact Beth Fiori, Cornell Career Services fellowships coordinator, at or visit

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