Before garnering national recognition as one of 50 students awarded the 2014 Udall Scholarship, University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Colin Higgins founded the Associated Students of Madison Sustainability Committee and helped run a competition between residence halls to reduce electricity use.
The Udall Foundation selects students with a noted commitment to progress on their respective campuses and who want to pursue a career in Native American policies or the environmental world, according to a UW-Madison news release.
Higgins, a student leader in the Office of Sustainability, said his passion for the environment began in high school when he would run past the Pheasant Branch Conservancy during cross-country practice in Middleton and notice all the ecological relations that occurred between the different plants and animals.
“When I came to college I thought I was really interested in environmental science,” Higgins said. “More and more I realized that it was sort of the social and political relationship that runs throughout society that actually had an impact on the environment and that’s sort of where I turned my focus.”
Higgins is triple-majoring in history, geography and environmental studies. He said his coursework made him aware of a gap hindering eco-friendly initiatives on campus and inspired him to close that gap as an ASM representative.
“One of the papers I wrote was sort of about how there needs to be an institutional backing for sustainability,” Higgins said. “And mulling on the thoughts from that course I began to conceive the [sustainability] committee.”
He wrote the legislation the summer going into his sophomore year.
Higgins said he believes student engagement with environmental sustainability on campus has increased and UW-Madison housing in particular has made strides in reducing waste during the move-in and move-out phases of the year.
“At first it is sort of a death by a thousand cuts, but in reverse, people’s small actions do add up,” he said. “With choosing to bike instead of drive somewhere, one person adds a very small amount, but multiply that by every college graduate … That becomes a much larger impact and living in a sustainable manner is very easy.”
Higgins will meet the other 49 Udall Scholarship recipients in Tucson, Ariz., this August to discuss how to solve some of the issues in the fields of environmental policy and Native American policy.