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Student Profile: Chris Fernandez

Major: Biology

Hometown: Lorton, Virginia

For Chris Fernandez, receiving the $7,000 Udall Scholarship provides an opportunity, as the rising senior says, “to understand some of the roots of the conservation movement in the United States.” In August, at a four-day conference tied to the scholarship in Tucson, Arizona, 60 scholarship recipients worked with professionals on case studies concerning environmental and Native American issues.

Chris FernandezPhoto by Ron Aira

Chris Fernandez; Photo by Ron Aira

Why the Udall scholarship? Awarded annually to juniors and sophomores committed to matters relating to the environment or Native Americans, the scholarship honors the legacy of the late brothers and politicians, Morris and Stewart Udall. Fernandez identifies with their conservation philosophy. “Just the idea of being super optimistic about what we have accomplished. We have to move forward but it’s important to be pragmatic,” he says.

Hands-on experience: Fernandez, a first-generation college student, has been busy during his time at Mason. A member of the Honors College, he has interned with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and at the Long Island (New York) National Wildlife Refuge Complex. As a junior, he studied at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation at Front Royal, Virginia. And his research project analyzed actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in support of endangered and threatened bird populations.

Knowledge sharing: There are moments when Fernandez just has to point out to friends that rare bird in a tree or a flowering plant. “It’s true,” he says, laughing. “Ecologists are geeky in that way. We’re known for ruining that silent moment.”

Looking ahead: Fernandez plans to pursue a master’s degree. His long-term goal is to promote the idea that conservation and human activity can coexist. “The intersections between science and society,” Fernandez calls it. “What does ecosystem health look like, but what are the impacts to humans? There’s an integral human ecology that’s at play with the natural world, and that’s very beautiful.”