Student Champion of Environment Wins Udall Award

Saskia Versteeg

Saskia Versteeg, a student from the Netherlands, has been determined to make her fellow UT Dallas students aware of their ecological impact.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Saskia Versteeg was always keenly aware of the environment.  She took particular pride in the Dutch engineering that protected the coast of her homeland while ensuring the natural ecology of the region.

When she enrolled at UT Dallas, she was determined to make her fellow students aware of their ecological impact.

“I’ve always ridden a bike. I always recycled. I wondered why more wasn’t being done here,” she said.

Versteeg, who is a McDermott Scholar, got to work organizing projects to stir campus awareness and to ensure that recycling was available in all the campus apartments. She also helped establish a minor in environmental studies at UT Dallas.

That kind of initiative has garnered her — for the second year in a row — the Udall Scholarship, which recognizes sophomores and juniors committed to careers in the environment, tribal public policy or Native American or Native Alaskan healthcare. The Udall Foundation is named for former Congressmen Morris K. and Stuart L. Udall.

Saskia Versteeg and Mt. Trashmore

Versteeg donned 500 plastic bags to demonstrate how many an average person uses in a year.

“Saskia is one of only seven repeat Udall Scholars nationwide this year. This is a true recognition of her continuing growth as both a scientist and an environmental leader,” said Dr. Douglas Dow, coordinator of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships and associate director of the University’s Collegium V honors program.

She has worked on such creative projects as February’s “Mount Trashmore” on the campus mall, which was a huge pile of full trash bags collected throughout the University to demonstrate how much refuse is generated by the campus. Versteeg recruited student volunteers and served as the “bag monster” mascot. 

“I was covered in 500 plastic grocery bags, which is the average amount a person uses in a year,” the junior physics major said. “Everyone thinks they’re throwing away one thing, but if 300 million U.S. citizens throw something away, that’s a lot.”

Last year, she worked with Student Government to elicit the student support necessary for the University’s new minor in environmental studies. Offered through the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, courses range from ecology to environmental economics.  

Versteeg has traveled widely to pursue environmental concerns. Her international experiences include:

  • Visiting the Glaciers National Park in Argentina’s Patagonia province while taking a Spanish immersion course the summer of her freshman year.
  • Attending the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, where she learned how modern technology could help developing countries adapt to climate change.
  • Completing an internship last summer with the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, where she assisted in the hydro physics laboratory studying climate change and coastal engineering.

She plans to attend  the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research this summer and fall in Germany, where she will study with a climate physicist and complete her senior thesis. “I’ll be studying those tipping points in climate change that completely flip over the weather in a country,” she said.

Her work overseas has helped solidify her future goals. Versteeg plans to pursue a PhD in climate physics or coastal engineering.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].