Abigail “Abbie” Veitch (environmental studies and communications ’21) has been awarded a prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Udall Foundation in recognition of her leadership, public service, and commitment to environmental issues. This scholarship, authorized by Congress, honors the legacies of Congressman Morris Udall and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, whose careers had a significant impact on Native American self-governance and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources.
Veitch is just one of fifty-five Udall Scholars representing forty-eight different universities and colleges from across the United States. This year’s scholars were chosen from a field of 429 candidates nominated by 199 US universities.
Veitch’s interest in environmental issues began at a very young age—in fact, she was born on Earth Day. In elementary school, she sold homemade bracelets and donated the proceeds to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) for panda and polar bear protection.
“I come from a community with a really rich environmental history,” Veitch says. “The men who founded the Environmental Defense Fund lived in my hometown, and one of them founded the environmental club at my high school, so it is something I've been lucky enough to have always been surrounded by.”
Veitch has built her own personal history of community engagement and volunteerism related to sustainability and the environment. She spent several summers volunteering with the National Park Service on New York’s Fire Island National Seashore, and she worked with the FRESHFARM FoodPrints program, a DC Public Schools initiative focused on educating elementary-age students about the importance of healthy eating, farming, and sustainability.
“In a year when so many scholarship opportunities were cancelled or cut short, we were thrilled that Abbie won this prestigious award in recognition of her consistent commitment to environmental issues,” says Liz Romig, associate director of AU’s Office of Merit Awards. “Even better, the news was announced on Earth Day, which was also Abbie’s birthday. It’s hard to think of a more perfect gift!”
Leadership at AU and Beyond
Veitch is currently the administrative local news editor for the news section of The Eagle, American University’s student-led newspaper, and she says she is grateful for this experience and the mentorship she received from the paper’s faculty and staff advisors. “The Eagle has really been my home base at AU. I've learned an incredible amount about the importance of journalism, the AU community, and effective communication from the mentors I've had and work the work I've done with The Eagle,” she explains. “But also, the people on staff have really become my support system, and many of the friends I've made on staff are some of my closest relationships. I'm so grateful to be surrounded by such hard-working passionate people.
Veitch has held internships within the communications departments of The Wilderness Society and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. She says that her goal is to someday become the director of a communication department for an environmental non-profit organization dedicated to conservation.
At American University, Veitch founded a university chapter of the global nonprofit organization Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), through which she has begun organizing hands-on sustainability work in the DC community.
Karen Knee, AU associate professor of environmental science, worked with Veitch on the EWS chapter. "Abbie is an amazing young woman and I cannot think of a more worthy recipient for the Udall award,” she says. “The dedication and leadership she demonstrated by starting the AU chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World was impressive, and I know that the group will continue to make great contributions to AU and to the DC community for years to come. I feel really lucky to know Abbie and to serve as faculty advisor for ESW."
Kristof Aldenderfer, who serves as director of American University’s Design and Build Lab as well as an adjunct faculty member of the physics and computer sciences, agrees. "Abbie founded and cultivated a sustainable engineering club on a campus with no engineering program, which is an incredible accomplishment,” he says. “She is a natural leader who has a way of engaging with her peers that inspires confidence in her vision as well as in those who are part of the conversation. This scholarship is so very well deserved, and I am honored to have had the pleasure of working with her."
As part of the scholarship, Veitch will also attend a virtual summer scholar orientation. It’s an opportunity for Udall scholars to meet, work together on a case study, learn new ways of collaborating, and build community with each other, Udall Alumni, and professionals working on environmental and tribal issues.
Faculty and Staff Mentors
Abbie would like to recognize Karen Knee (Environmental Science), her professor and the faculty advisor for the club she founded, the AU chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). Professor Kristof Aldenderfer, Director of AU’s Design and Build Lab (DaBL), also serves as a faculty advisor for ESW.
She is grateful to her staff mentors, Office of Merit Awards associate directors Liz Romig and Chris Swanson, who oversee the Udall Scholarship competition on behalf of American University. Liz Veatch, a consultant in the Office of Merit Awards, also provides important guidance and mentorship on behalf of our nominees.