Colin Higgins’ experience running cross-country through the trails in the Pheasant Branch Creek Conservancy in Middleton sparked his fascination with the environment.
He said the University of Wisconsin was a place he “stumbled upon in a sort of serendipity.”
Higgins is one of 50 students nationwide to be selected as a 2014 Udall Scholar, which awards scholarships of up to $5,000 to sophomore and junior-level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care, according to the Udall Scholarship website.
Higgins, a junior at UW triple majoring in history, geography and environmental studies with a certificate in African studies, is being honored by the Udall Foundation for his accomplishments both in and outside the classroom.
Outside of his heavy academic course load, Higgins has been involved in F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture and the Middleton-based nonprofit Growing Food and Sustainability.
In his freshman year, Higgins founded and chaired the Sustainability Committee for the Associated Students of Madison. Higgins is currently the student leader at the UW Office of Sustainability and advises on research, education and operations.
Next year, Higgins will start his senior thesis, in which he said he plans to study biodiversity policy in Great Britain. Higgins was born and raised in England for the first seven years of his life while his mother worked for the United Nations in London.
Higgins was also recently accepted into the La Follette School of Public Affairs to earn his master’s degree in public policy.
“After that, I’m undecided. As cliché as it sounds, I really want to see the world,” Higgins said.
Eventually, he said he would like to pursue a Ph.D. in geography to merge academic geography with public policy.
He said his career outlook involves forming public policy, particularly regarding natural resources and ecological conservation and eventually becoming an academic geographer.
“I’m particularly interested in looking at the interplay between the environment and economic policy,” Higgins said. “And ideally how we can have a fair society and safe environment.”
Throughout his time at UW, Higgins said the connections he was able to make with his professors are invaluable for exploring his potential and various interests. He pointed to geography professors Lisa Naughton and Morgan Robertson as helping him develop his motivation for studying the cross section of public policy and geography.
One of the major essays he said influenced his fascination with environmental topics was “The Trouble With Wilderness” by UW history professor William Cronon. Higgins said he was able to take a class with Cronon when he first started college and having the opportunity to work closely with someone as prominent as Cronon was one of his most unique experiences at UW.
“It’s such a big school and there’s so many opportunities, both for student engagement-wise and academic-wise,” Higgins said. “We have some highly influential people, particularly in the geography department. It shaped the direction I wanted to go with my life and my goals.”