Spencer Wins Udall Scholarship

April 11, 2007 -- Tyler S. Spencer, an international health and environmental sustainability major, has won a 2007 Udall Scholarship.

The scholarship, given by the Morris K. Udall Foundation to honor the late Arizona congressman, provides up to $5,000 for one year. Spencer was one of 80 students selected by a 12-member independent review committee on the basis of commitment to careers in the environment, health care or tribal public policy, leadership potential and academic achievement.

Spencer, 20, is researching the impact of organized sports on HIV prevention in South Africa. He is finishing a year of research in Washington, D.C., at both the African Wildlife Foundation and Sports for Life, a partnership of UNAIDS and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. He has also been taking courses at Georgetown University.

“I couldn't have been more surprised or more shocked to have received this award,” said Spencer, who credited his self-designed major as being very helpful. His course of study, which he crafted with help from anthropology professor Hanan Sabea and environmental sciences professor Robert J. Swap, is equal parts foreign affairs, anthropology and biological and environmental sciences.

Spencer, who has received two Harrison Undergraduate Research grants, has also conducted research in Africa on attitudes that both Westerners and indigenous Africans hold toward the theory and practice of conservation.

“Africa — and particularly Southern Africa — is the center of an incredibly multi-faceted intersection of politics, culture and both indigenous and Western science,” Spencer said, explaining his interest in the continent. “I believe that an interdisciplinary approach to development issues in this region is crucial to its progress.”

Swap described Spencer as “a young future leader.”

“Tyler has shown through his initiative his growing appreciation of how humans interact with the environment,” said Swap. Spencer’s research and work focuses on “understanding the human dimension of global change and how humans factor into the equation.”

This focus led Spencer to change his academic trajectory.

“I came to U.Va. wanting to be a physics major and go to med school,” he said. “But just a few weeks of an anthropology course I took during my first year quickly made me realize that cultural fluency is becoming extremely important to the progress of science.”

“Tyler is a wonderful example of a U.Va. student with the initiative to look beyond our borders to develop research projects that benefit underserved populations around the world,” said Richard L. Guerrant, director of the Center for Global Health, to which Spencer applied for research support.

Spencer is an Echols Scholar, has received Intermediate Honors and has been selected to live on the Lawn in 2007-2008. He is founder of a cross-country cycling trip to benefit those affected by Hurricane Katrina, and has been active in tennis and crew. He is currently a walk-on with the Georgetown varsity crew team, and helping coach tennis at Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., school for the deaf, where he can use the sign language he learned in his first two years at U.Va.

"Tyler Spencer is an outstanding student, and we are pleased and proud that the Morris Udall Foundation has selected him to join its fellowship of young scholars," said William M. Wilson, interim director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. "It is widely known that the University excels in academics and public service. This has been confirmed with Tyler's Udall Scholarship."

The Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation was authorized by Congress in 1992 to honor Congressman Udall's legacy of public service. The foundation is supported by a trust fund in the U.S. Treasury and contributions from the private sector. There have been 916 Udall Scholars since the first awards in 1996.

The 2007 Udall Scholars will assemble for five days during August in Tucson, Ariz., to meet policy-makers and community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care and governance.

 “I will be able to learn from so many great student leaders in the fields of environment, public health and tribal public policy,” Spencer said.

Spencer said he has no regrets about working in grassroots and nonprofit organizations instead of pursuing more lucrative endeavors.

“I want a career that gives me fulfillment in knowing I am working towards social justice, not just a fancy car or a huge house,” Spencer said.