BOONTON TOWNSHIP — For almost as long as it has existed as a member-supported, non-profit land trust, The Land Conservancy of New Jersey has been providing scholarships to residents of New Jersey pursuing degrees in environmental science, natural resource management, conservation, park administration, and related fields.
For the past 36 years, this program has been rewarding environmental scholars who plan to pursue careers protecting the natural resources of their home state. This year the $7,500 Russell M. Myers Scholarship is awarded to Jessica Zhao, a senior at Duke University majoring in environmental science and policy with a concentration in marine conservation.
During the past year, Zhao volunteered with Peruvian nonprofits to reverse eutrophication in an Andean wetland and met with sustainability-focused businesses, organizations, and leaders across Scandinavia. She also studied at the Duke Marine Lab under a Rachel Carson scholarship, which trains promising students to become the next generation of marine conservation leaders. She will use her research on governance in Eastern Indonesian marine protected areas to complete an honors thesis before graduation.
This summer she is gaining political experience in a state-level organization that holds elected officials accountable for the environment. The $7,500 Rogers Family Scholarship goes to Toyosi Dickson, a recent Rutgers graduate whose deep involvement in her campus and devotion to her community has earned her the Reich Scholarship, Dr. Samuel D. & Anne E. Faust Memorial Award, and a place in the George H. Cook Honors program at Rutgers.
In between all research, she found time to dedicate herself to her EOF program’s Community of Students Involved ‘N’ Education (COSINE) Club as the chair for professional development. Dickson is going on to pursue a master’s degree in environmental justice at the University of Michigan—a place she has already gotten to know as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar.
Rick Simon led the Conservancy’s Scholarship Committee. This year there were more applicants than ever, and the competition was tough. The committee reviewed 20 applications from current undergraduate and graduate students, paring down the candidates to five who that they wanted to interview (this year, over Zoom). From this pool of superbly qualified individuals, Zhao and Dickson were chosen. Simon says, “TLCNJ is proud to be able to help these two outstanding women achieve their career goals. It was a pleasure for our entire committee to meet Toyosi and Jessica, as well as all of the applicants we interviewed.
It was exciting and inspiring to hear about the leading-edge discoveries and breakthroughs they are all involved in, related to clean water, land preservation, and combatting climate change. Our only regret is that we are financially limited to these two scholarships since each year we meet more and more truly remarkable young people who are making a huge difference in this field.”
Both students are up for the challenge. Dickson says, “You would think that the award money is the most important thing to me about this scholarship, but it’s not. This is the culmination of all my hard work finally being valued and recognized; it’s earned me this scholarship and admission into graduate school. It tells me that others—professionals in my field—value my research studying the impact of environmental decisions on underrepresented communities, and I am further determined to go the distance.” Zhao expressed a similar sentiment. “It is an honor to be this year’s recipient of the Russell W. Myers Scholarship. I am excited to use my education to continue advancing climate action and influencing policy in New Jersey and beyond.”
The Russell M. Myers Scholarship was established in 1983 to honor Mr. Myers, founder of The Land Conservancy of New Jersey. An outstanding leader in the field of conservation, Mr. Myers was the first Director of the Morris County Park Commission. His dynamic leadership established the Morris County Park System, which remains the largest county park system in New Jersey and one of the finest in the nation.
The Rogers Family Scholarship was established in 2005 by Gray and Mollie Rogers, dedicated conservationists who wanted to expand The Land Conservancy’s educational support for outstanding students passionate about protecting our natural environment. Gray Rogers is a trustee emeritus of The Land Conservancy. In 36 years the scholarship program has awarded $300,000 in grants to 60 outstanding college students.
Past recipients have hailed from nearly 40 different New Jersey towns and have used their scholarships to obtain bachelor, master’s, and doctorate degrees at an array of institutions including New Jersey’s own Rutgers and Stockton Universities.
Their fields of study have included environmental law, policy, and planning, as well as chemistry, wildlife ecology, geography, landscape architecture, and forestry management. The Land Conservancy of New Jersey is a member-supported, non-profit, accredited land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting natural land and water resources throughout the State. Originally founded as an all-volunteer group in 1981 the organization has worked with 100 municipalities in 13 counties and continues to be recognized for meeting the highest standards for protecting open space, upholding the public trust, and ensuring that their conservation efforts are permanent.
For more information about the work of The Land Conservancy of New Jersey, visit their website www.tlc-nj.org or call (973) 541-1010.