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Mt. Pleasant's Ashley Funk earns Udall Foundation scholarship

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
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For her ongoing commitment to environmental issues, Mt. Pleasant native Ashley Funk was recently selected as the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.

Funk — a sophomore at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. — was among students from universities and colleges across the nation to receive the scholarship, which is typically reserved for juniors and seniors, she said.

“Ashley is one of the most outstanding students I have known in my 26 years of teaching at Wellesley College,” said Marcy Thomas, a senior laboratory instructor there who nominated Funk for the scholarship.

Funk was one of four Wellesley students nominated for the honor.

The scholarship will cover her academic expenses, and it will enable her to attend a five-day orientation in early August in Tuscon, Ariz.

Funk said she is honored to be named one of 50 student leaders in environmental and tribal policy within the United States.

She added she anticipates meeting with people of all ages who share her environmental concerns in Tuscon.

“I'm hoping to make personal connections with both professionals and students to get a better sense of their values and perspectives, beyond what they chose to show on paper,” Funk said. “I hope to find and work with people who share my core set of beliefs that drive us to continue advocating for environmental and social reform.”

Student stands out to teacher

Thomas first met Funk in her Environmental Studies 101 lab.

She said she was immediately struck by Funk's powerful writing about her upbringing in Mt. Pleasant, which was plagued with environmental destruction associated with coal mining.

Thomas said Funk's independent lab project was essentially a mini-thesis. She added Funk was always a thoughtful writer, researcher and a quick study of the new technology in the ecology laboratory.

Thomas describes Funk as “a leader with vision and resolve.”

“Ashley brings exactly the kind of synergy that I cherish most in our environmental studies students — an effective combination of work inside and outside the classroom,” Thomas said. “She (also) brings a genuine, passionate and effective follow-up to her scholastic work.”

A worker for all seasons

Funk's work on solutions to environmental issues does not stop when school is out of session for the summer.

She helped organize and design a grassroots activism program for youth across the country.

The program, sponsored by the Sierra Club Student Coalition, took place in June in Antrim, N.H.

She taught youth how to be effective organizers and build strong communities within the social and environmental movement. It marked her fourth year volunteering with the program.

Other projects that keep Funk busy include promoting a broader discussion around Wellesley's role in affecting environmental change through a campaign entitled “Fossil Free Wellesley” that calls upon the college to rethink its investments in the fossil fuel industries.

Group awaits legislative ruling

Funk continues to work with Our Children's Trust to establish climate change legislation within Pennsylvania.

The group awaits a ruling from the state's Environmental Quality Board to on its proposal for rule-making to establish a more stringent policy regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition, Funk will work on Wellesley College's student farm, called Regeneration, for a month during the summer to help provide fresh food to the surrounding community there.

Funk's mother, Mt. Pleasant Township resident Carolyn Funk, said the fact that her daughter's peers follow her lead and that her endeavors have caught the attention of so many means she has a bright future.

“She has become an example of what hard work and dedication can get you. She has grown into an amazing young adult,” Carolyn Funk said.

In 1992, the U.S. Congress established the Udall Foundation as an independent executive branch agency to honor Morris K. Udall's 30 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the foundation's web site.

In 2009, Congress enacted legislation to honor Stewart L. Udall and add his name to the foundation, the site states.

Kelly Vernon is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-547-5722 or kvernon@tribweb.com.

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