ORONO, Maine — It’s a rare honor for a mechanical engineering major, but it seems there’s more to Bradford native Michael Parker than simply an academic title.
The University of Maine junior was one of two University of Maine students to receive the prestigious Morris K. Udall Scholarship, which is considered the highest national recognition for students in environmental fields, the university announced recently.
Parker and fellow junior Laura Wood of Scarborough were among 80 Udall scholars chosen out of 515 applicants nationwide. Since the program’s inception in 1996, four UMaine students have received the award, and two students have been named honorable mention.
The Morris K. Udall Foundation was established to commemorate Udall’s 30 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives as a congressman from Arizona. Udall scholars are chosen on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, health care or Native American tribal policy, leadership potential, and academic achievement. Each scholarship winner receives $5,000 for up to one year.
The scholarships typically go to students in the environmental sciences and ecology majors. Parker is the coordinator of the Green Campus Initiative, and he has worked to design the renovation of a campus building to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification standards. He is considering staying at UMaine to pursue a master’s degree with a focus on offshore wind power.
Parker serves as the co-president of Engineers Without Borders at UMaine. He has worked with the community of Dulce Nombre, Honduras, on sustainable water and sanitation solutions.
“Generally, this [award] doesn’t happen to mechanical engineers,” Jean MacRae, an associate professor of environmental engineering and faculty adviser to the UMaine chapter of Engineers Without Borders, said in a statement.
“Mechanical engineers can have a huge impact on the environment, especially if attention is paid to efficiency,” she said. “Michael sees the whole picture. He’s a mechanical engineer, but he’s not fixated on the gadgets. He sees how the things we make can affect our environmental and social systems.”
Parker said in a statement that he considers mechanical engineering to be his vocation and sustainability his avocation.
“In my time at UMaine, I’ve studied how to integrate these things,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities for technical developments that make an impact on the sustainability of our country, whether through wind power or more efficient manufacturing and housing systems, and there is the need for people with technical expertise.”
Wood, an ecology and environmental sciences major, is a past recipient of the George J. Mitchell Scholarship and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship. On campus, she has worked with UMaine’s facilities management directors and dining services managers to learn about composting, waste management and recycling efforts.