Honors Student Wins Fourth Major National Scholarship

Colin Carlson, CLAS ’12.

Colin Carlson, CLAS ’12. (Dan Buttrey/UConn Photo)

Colin Carlson, CLAS ’12, the young environmental activist who began his college career at UConn when he was only 12, has won a fourth major national scholarship, the Pearson Prize.

He is one of 20 students around the country to receive the $10,000 prize, which is awarded to students who demonstrate leadership in community service.

Earlier this year, Carlson won a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, given for academic merit in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, and a Truman scholarship, which acknowledges college juniors for their leadership and dedication to careers in public service. Last year, Carlson received a Udall Scholarship for his commitment to the environment.

He will be ineligible to apply this fall for a Rhodes Scholarship, which has a minimum age of 18. His 15th birthday is July 31, 2011.

Throughout his college career and before coming here, Carlson has demonstrated his commitment to environmental causes. In 2006 he founded the Cool Coventry Club, a grassroots effort to curb global warming. At UConn he has been active as an Eco Husky and in the UConn Wildlife Society, and as a non-residential member of EcoHouse Learning Community, which he will join this fall as a resident.

Last fall he was a legislative intern for the Connecticut Sierra Club, and he blogs for Action for Nature.

One of his favorite quotes, from Bill Watterson, the creator of the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes, is, “If your knees aren’t green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously reexamine your life.”

“I like to stay busy—I always have something I’m working on,” he says. That includes a double major in ecology and evolutionary biology and environmental studies.

This year, his senior year in CLAS, he will complete two theses, one for each major. For his University Scholar thesis in ecology and evolutionary biology, he has experiments underway in the greenhouse atop the BioPhysics Building on 13 species of plants in the genus Pelargonium. These natives of South Africa, which Carlson visited last summer with Professor Carl Schlichting’s research group, include scented geraniums and Pelargonium citronellum, which have exotic smells ranging from chocolate to citronella. He studies differences in plants grown in shade and sun—how light levels change the leaf shapes and plant fitness, for instance—as part of a larger research interest in what causes plant biodiversity and how it can be protected.

For his environmental studies honors thesis, he is interested in “sacred groves,” or trees as a cultural metaphor, looking at the origins of tree worship and ancient belief systems.

After graduation, Carlson is looking at the possibility of an environmental policy internship in Washington, D.C. He plans to study for a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology (probably in a warmer climate than Connecticut, he says) and earn a JD in environmental law in preparation for a career centered on environmental and climate change policy.

In the meantime, he is co-organizing an Environmental Justice Symposium to be held Oct. 22 at the Dodd Center, working with the Human Rights Institute. His focus now, he says, is not just to volunteer in environmental efforts but to “keep the discussion going” so that the symposium becomes an annual event.