Geography alumnus named Rhodes Scholar

colin-higgins-udallColin Higgins (B.A. ’15) has been named a recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, an honor reserved for the top undergraduate scholars.

Higgins, of Middleton, Wisconsin, completed his undergraduate studies in May, triple majoring with comprehensive honors in environmental studies, geography and history. He is currently a graduate student in the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs and will complete an accelerated Master of Public Affairs degree in the spring.

The Rhodes Scholarship funds two to three years of study at England’s Oxford University. Founded in 1902, it is the oldest international study program in the world; on average, it is valued at approximately $50,000 per year.

“I entered freshman year looking for conservation and left a geographer,” Higgins wrote in his application. On and off campus, he has encouraged engagement in environmental and sustainability issues. He founded and chaired the Associated Students of Madison Sustainability Committee; as student leader of the Office of Sustainability, he ran the student Sustainability Council and advised on campus sustainability research, education and operations. He has also conducted independent research on the valuation of ecosystem services such as biodiversity.

“Colin shows extraordinary commitment to public service and to environmental stewardship in particular. He is also a gifted diplomat, as demonstrated by his success in establishing the Sustainability Committee of the ASM and leading other environmental initiatives on campus,” says Lisa Naughton, chair of the Geography Department. “We couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments.”

“He is a natural at finding the right questions to ask at the junction environmental policy and the on-the-ground practices which shape the environment,” added geography professor Morgan Robertson, Colin’s honors program advisor. “As a geographer, he has learned to move between the level of policy documents and the farmer’s-table interviews necessary to understand how policy works in the world. He has the highest potential to be an effective environmental leader and researcher.”

Higgins plans to seek philosophical and practical solutions to environmental governance issues by pursuing an MPhil in Geography and the Environment, supervised by Oxford professor Jamie Lorimer. Higgins laid the foundation for this work last summer, conducting fieldwork in Oxford on biodiversity offsetting, the practice of using a market-based system to ensure no net loss of nature due to development. He plans to get a doctorate in geography and pursue a career bridging research and policy.

Colin has already received national recognition for his work. In 2014, Higgins received a Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Scholarship as one of 50 students recognized nationwide for outstanding potential and a commitment to pursuing environmental careers.

“Colin has benefited greatly from the varied learning opportunities here at UW-Madison, particularly in relation to the depth of independent research he’s been able to pursue,” says Julie Stubbs, director of the Office of Undergraduate Academic Awards, who assisted Colin through the application process. “In and outside the classroom, the university does a wonderful job of preparing students for these prestigious scholarships, and for dynamic careers in the years ahead.”

Hundreds of elite applicants from dozens of colleges and universities vie for the Rhodes scholarship each year. Candidates are judged on a proven record of intellectual and academic achievement, integrity of character, interest in and respect for others, leadership ability, and the energy to fully utilize their talents.

Author: Geography Staff