Sustainability Scholars

The Sustainability Scholars program offers competitive awards of $5,000 for four consecutive years to incoming freshmen in the University Honors College who are interested in pursuing undergraduate research with a focus on urban sustainability. 

Sustainability Scholars meet regularly as a group with their faculty mentor, Assistant Professor Olyssa Starry, to discuss, research, and implement ideas to make the Portland State campus more sustainable. They are encouraged to pursue sustainability-related internships, and agree to pursue a senior thesis on a sustainability-related topic.

Meet the 2015 Sustainability Scholars 

Marcco Higham was born in Laramie, Wyoming, and then lived in Colorado during high school. Marcco has always wanted to live in a city, and understanding why and how cities work is something that has always intrigued him. Right now he is pursuing a B.A. in Community Development and plans on attending graduate school for urban design or urban planning. As people increasingly move into urban areas, this has prompted Marcco to think about how people must accommodate this change in sustainable and environmentally conscious ways since he plans to have a career focused on urban environments. As an undergraduate, Marcco would like to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country and to reach fluency in the Spanish language. 


Madeline Michalk was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but lived in Dalian, China for her middle and high school years. While in China, Madeline attended an American International School and simultaneously immersed herself in the Chinese culture, learned the history, and developed a love for the community. Madeline is majoring in art history with a minor in Chinese language. She hopes to return to Asia someday where she may use her education and experience to find sustainable ways to preserve Chinese history, artifacts, and culture in environmentally friendly ways.


Jocelyn Reynolds was raised in Shell Beach, California, and also spent a year living in a tiny mountain town in Colorado. She plans to earn both her bachelor's and master's in architecture from PSU while running cross country and track for the Vikings. After college she wants to move to a developing country and work with humanitarian nonprofits designing low-tech structures and focusing on sustainable community development. She hopes to inspire her peers to make eco-conscious decisions everyday and to use their abilities to have a positive impact on both the environment and the less fortunate around the world. During her free time, she enjoys drawing, rock climbing, reading, camping, being involved in church, going to the beach, backpacking, skiing, hiking, listening to music, ocean kayaking, watching beautiful sunsets, and finding new awesome trails to run.


Graham Oden grew up in the San Luis Valley, a high mountain valley desert in southern Colorado, in a town of around 4,000 people called Monte Vista. He loves art, creative thinking, photography, and being able to help people in one form or another. He would like to eventually earn a master's degree in architecture. He is intrigued by the idea of sustainable architecture that is therapeutic in nature—pretty buildings that, while having a low carbon footprint, make people feel psychologically better after walking through them, and thinks that if people of the urban environment can reconnect with the night sky and all its glory, it will help shape how we continue to function in this world as a species. 


Meet the 2014 Sustainability Scholars 

Dmitriy Cherchenko was born and grew up in Portland. He’s majoring in communication studies and minoring in math and philosophy. His interests include diverse topics ranging from web development and modern architecture to rhetoric and graphic design. Having grown up and become attached to his hometown, he is planning to use his years in college to prepare to further make the city more environmentally sustainable—by reaching people through words and other mediums. He is particularly interested in designing public places that help bring people together, for he believes that communities thrive because of communication.


Jocelyn Rodriguez is from a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, and attended Lyons Township High School. She is majoring in environmental studies with a minor in geography. Jocelyn believes that in becoming environmentally conscious you also become conscious of yourself and that what you do as an individual truly makes a difference. You may seem small in this vast world, but your impact is not; and that is something many people seem to forget. Helping more people to become active in sustainable practices is something she strives for. In her free time she enjoys drinking tea, reading, exploring the great outdoors, and listening to music.


Lencia Holmes was born just outside of Seattle, Washington, but grew up in rural North Carolina. She is a chemistry major who is intrigued by many facets of sustainability and environmental science. Currently, her future plans include creating sustainable sources of energy and methods to store energy. Her other interests include reading fiction, acting, technical work in theatre, listening to music, and analyzing media.




Serena Dressel grew up in Lincoln City, Oregon, and went to high school in McMinnville, Oregon. She is majoring in environmental studies with an interest in minoring in community development. Serena’s involvement with sustainability on campus includes volunteering for the Sustainable Volunteer Program, interning for the Student Sustainability Center, and acting as a member on the Student Sustainable Leadership Council. Serena plans to work in the environmental education field. Serena hopes to help educate and communicate with communities about the importance of sustainability and protecting the environment. During her free time, she enjoys being in the outdoors- hiking and taking photos, drinking tea, reading, writing, cooking and traveling. 


Meet the 2013 Sustainability Scholars 

Clarissa Gaillardet grew up in the Corvallis, Oregon area, and attended South Albany High School. She is double majoring in applied linguistics and German with a TESOL certificate as well. Clarissa is interested in many issues surrounding sustainability, but particularly sustainable community development, both urban and rural. She plans to volunteer and work abroad following graduation. Clarissa spends her free time reading, cooking, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors.



Dominic Galen is from Portland, Oregon, and is studying environmental engineering. His interest in environmental engineering began during his time spent volunteering in Ladakh, India where he got a hands-on introduction to the field by working on low-tech sustainable projects with local students. Dominic plans on practicing innovative sustainable development in order to simultaneously improve quality of life and the longevity of communities. Eventually, Dominic hopes to work on the reform of waste-water management, water reclamation, and sustainable structure design in the U.S. and abroad. In his free time, Dominic enjoys camping, photography, cooking, traveling, and searching for his next favorite album. 


Kayla Townsley was born in Hood River, Oregon, but grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. She is majoring in micro/molecular biology and minoring in art practices, with a focus on drawing and painting. Her current research interests include the relationship between developmental origins (epigenetics) and socioeconomic inequalities. Additionally, she is interested in how our environments shape our genes and how that in turn can have either adverse or auspicious effects on our physical and mental health. She takes a holistic approach to sustainability— encompassing economic, cultural, environmental, and social characteristics. She believes that sustainable practices could help alleviate socioeconomic disparities and decrease some of the deleterious effects that developmental origins have on the health of individuals within underrepresented communities.


Jazzmine Allen is from Portland, Oregon. She is majoring in organismal biology and minoring in Japanese. She hopes to work with endangered species after she graduates. During her free time, Jazzmine enjoys reading, music, and playing sports.





Meet the 2012 Sustainability Scholars 

Amber Smith is from Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently a junior at Portland State University. She is majoring in geography, with particular interest in studying how humans interact with and perceive their natural environment. She is interested in using art and outdoor recreation to raise awareness about environmental and social issues. She is the president of the student group Tea with TED (watch a short video about the group here) and interns with the Honors College researching green roofs in Portland. Additionally, Amber works at the campus rock climbing wall and leads outdoor trips for the PSU Outdoor Program. In her free time she enjoys drawing, cycling, rock climbing, and volunteering with various community groups.  


Melecio Estrella is from Davis, California, and is in his junior year at Portland State University. He is majoring in environmental engineering and is looking forward to joining the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) student chapter this year. EWB is an organization that works with communities abroad to design and complete sustainable engineering projects. Melecio is interested in all aspects of sustainability but specifically sustainable design in engineering projects around the world, especially in developing nations. During his free time, you can find him reading, playing piano, rock climbing, or adventuring with his friends.


A junior in environmental science, Avarie Fitzgerald was inspired to enter the fields of ecology and environmental education when she attended a three week outdoor educational program in the mountains as a high school student. Now, four years later, she is interested in how she herself can cultivate a passion for the natural world in people of all ages and to help them share a desire for sustainability, science, and stewardship. Originally from Astoria, Oregon, she enjoys baking, backpacking, taking rainy urban hikes, and of course, watching The Goonies for the thousandth time.



Allison Woolverton grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, and attended Beaverton High School. She is majoring in community health education with minors in sociology and women's studies. Her future plans are to focus on environmental health and sustainability. Currently she is interning at The Rebuilding Center in north Portland to learn about building materials in relation to health, and is also working on her thesis on hazardous materials. In her free time she enjoys hiking and crocheting.