University of Vermont

Cooke ’14 Awarded Nationally Competitive Udall Scholarship

UVM student Tad Cooke’ 14 has been named a 2012 Udall Scholar. This nationally competitive scholarship acknowledges sophomores and juniors who have been outstanding leaders and who have demonstrated excellence in the classroom. It is the most prestigious undergraduate award available for students who are pursuing careers focused on environmental or Native American issues.

During the past two years, Cooke, a Charlotte, Vt. native and a sustainable food and energy systems major, has worked to fundamentally rethink the way organic material has been used and reused in the way that society produces food and energy. This past spring Cooke, along with fellow student Erick Crockenberg ’14, received first place in UVM's Clean Energy Fund competition for their proposal to research and then build a carbon-negative, compost heated production and research greenhouse on UVM’s Miller Farm. This would be the first greenhouse of its kind in the country. Cooke and Crockenberg also helped create UVM’s Ecological Desgin summit, and are also the university’s lead project coordinators on an EPA P3 grant, which will help them further fund the research on heat system technology for the greenhouse operation.

“Tad and Erick's proposals are visionary in their support of local food systems,” said Professor Don Ross of the Plant and Soil Sciences department. Ross, who is also the director of the environmental sciences program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has worked closely with both students. “Students like these are a pleasure to help and we, as faculty, are learning from them. Tad is incredibly self-directed and already having a strong impact on sustainability here at UVM."

Cooke and Crockenberg got a jump on their work in 2011 when they were awarded a Public Research and Civic Endeavors Scholarship through UVM’s Office of Undergraduate Research. Using this grant, the two began conducting research on energy capture with existing compost management at Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne. They found that capturing the energy given off by compost can create a viable energy source which farmers in New England can use to lower their energy bills and to heat buildings that allow for a longer growing season.

“All of us who worked with the Udall applicants this year -- Brit Chase (our Fellowships Coordinator) together with the faculty committee that evaluated the applications internally as we worked toward nominations -- were impressed with the caliber of all the nominees,” said Lisa Schnell, associate dean of the Honors College. “We are delighted to have a winner in Tad, and very pleased with this national recognition for the important work that’s being done by students at UVM in the field of environmental sustainability.”

On campus, Cooke has also been a wilderness TREK leader as well as a trip leader and UVM Kayak Club treasurer. He is a volunteer EMT on Colchester Rescue, and has volunteered for Burlington’s Farm2School Program, as well as on Bread & Butter Farm. After graduating from UVM, Cooke plans to continue his research in graduate school while pursuing a degree in community development and applied economics. With his education, he intends to create a company that designs self-sustaining food and energy systems which will create healthy foods while producing the energy that can be used to run the system.

Cooke is the fourth UVM student to be named a Udall Scholar (Tyler Wilkinson-Ray ‘12 received the award in 2011, and Zachary Ewell ‘08 and Kesha Ram ‘08 received the award in 2006). Out of the 585 students nominated by universities to participate in the 2012 competition, 80 students were named scholars and 50 students were given honorable mentions. Each scholar receives a $5,000 scholarship, an expenses-paid trip to Tuscon, Ariz. for Udall Scholar orientation and access to one of the largest networks of environmental leaders in the country.

Since 2005, when the university put a centralized fellowship outreach and support program in place, 89 UVM students have won or been finalists in the country’s most prestigious and competitive competitions, including the Fulbright, Rhodes, Goldwater, Marshall, Udall, Truman, Madison, Gilman, Boren, Critical Language Awards, SMART and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.