Meet Audrey Cho ’24: Smith’s Udall Scholar
Audrey Cho ’24 believes that making progress on climate change means meeting people where they are.
“Everyone has a different level of education and understanding about the issues,” says Cho, the recipient of a prestigious 2022 Udall Undergraduate Scholarship. “We need to talk to people in terms they can understand and resonate with, about how this affects their health and the health of their family.”
Cho is one of 55 undergraduates selected nationally this year from more than 380 applicants to the Udall Foundation’s scholarship program, which recognizes students committed to careers in conservation, the environment and Native American nations.
She will spend the summer at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, doing ethnographic research on community responses to water pollution from agricultural fertilizers.
Ultimately, Cho hopes to pursue a career as a policy analyst or environmental lawyer supporting people “disproportionately affected by climate change and water pollution.”
Here’s what else she had to say about her work in the sustainability field.
What sparked your interest in environmental issues?
“It started in 10th grade, when I took a trip to the Tidelines Institute in Alaska. We spent two weeks there—we left our phones at home and went camping and kayaking. Learning about the impact of climate change on fisheries and about the Native Alaskan presence and conservation strategies was amazing! I left there feeling super empowered and passionate about environmental issues.”
How did your time at Smith help shape your interest in policy?
“At Smith, I beelined to CEEDS (Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability) and the environmental science and policy major. What I took away from the program was that I could guide where I wanted to go in the field; that there are a lot of different options. The focus on environmental justice encouraged me to look at diversity within the major. CEEDs became the space where I wanted to spend all of my time. I was surrounded by people who were in roles that I look up to and want to be in as a young professional.”
What aspects of campus sustainability inspired you the most?
“I really cherish every member of the Smith community working in the realm of campus sustainability. As a CEEDS intern I got to see how Smith is on the forefront of these issues compared to so many colleges. I was on the Committee on Sustainability that held initial discussions about plans for the new geothermal [campus energy] system. Smith is one of the first places that is doing carbon neutrality for real—not just through offsets. I’m really excited about that!”
How do you keep from feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of climate change?
“Being in natural spaces really recharges me. When I’m sad or stressed, I spend some time hiking. I also think it’s important to recognize that as an individual, my actions don’t compare to the actions of corporations. Climate change is really an issue that corporations have to face and reckon with. My individual actions of going vegan or recycling are not going to do as much. Just understanding that this fight is bigger than me is helpful.”
How will your Udall Scholarship help support your plans for the future?
“The most valuable part is the network I’m going to be plugged into. It includes every single Udall scholar and honorable mention—over 100 students each year—as well as connecting us to legislators and changemakers in the environmental world. I’ve already talked with Larissa Holland ‘20, Smith’s [most recent] Udall scholar. She’s been so helpful! It’s great to connect with other young people who are focused on the same thing.”