After graduating from University of Wisconsin in May 2015, current UW graduate student Colin Higgins has been recognized as one of 32 Rhodes Scholarship recipients.
Higgins, who hails from Wisconsin, said he first had the idea of applying the summer before his senior year at UW. Last summer he conducted research on an environmental policy in the UK, which he called biodiversity offsetting, at Oxford University. While there, he saw how much he liked and appreciated the learning environment.
“Spending time in Oxford, I realized that it’s a place where I really enjoy the intellectual atmosphere and climate of the place, and I thought it’d be a wonderful experience for me to get to study at this place,” Higgins said.
During his time at UW, Higgins majored in geography, history and environmental studies.
But his journey to UW wasn’t always so clear cut. In fact, Higgins said he barely got in to the university when he first applied, and was waitlisted. He came in as an art major due to his initial interest in graphic design, but later realized it wasn’t the best path.
While taking a First-year Interest Group called Nature and Culture, Higgins had aspirations of being a field ecologist. But after being in one of the classes in which he performed his worst during college, he said he changed his plans and continued to fulfill the environmental studies requirements.
After taking a geography course his second semester and an African history course the beginning of his sophomore year, he developed a new found interest that led to adding geography and history as majors.
“They all sort of amplify each other,” Higgins said. “I think all good geography is at least a little bit historical and all good history, in my view, takes into account the concerns of geography, the concerns of space and place and how people relate to both of those.”
When it comes to the intersection of his academic interests, Higgins said it all came together by doing what he’s been passionate about.
Higgins said the effect of unintended consequences —going into one thing but finding a different, but better fit— speaks to the liberal arts education he got at the university.
With a unifying theme of environmental governance, Higgins’ work looks into questions around how resources are governed, the access to resources and how ideas of nature contribute to them. Considering history and geography both happen in environments, he said he is interested in people and environmental geography, which allows him to build on what he think benefits the social good.
Higgins, who was involved with Associated Students of Madison, F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, Leland Pan for County Board and the Office of Sustainability, said his involvement contributed to his growth as a student and allowed him to apply his communication skills as well as knowledge gained in the classroom to be further engaged on campus.
As part of the two to three year funding the Rhodes Scholarship provides, Higgins said he hopes to pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in geography as he continues his focus on environmental governance.
“As opportunities come up, I usually have this mentality of just throwing my hat into the ring or putting something together, throwing it out there and seeing what happens. And really following up on that and just talking to people,” Higgins said. “I’ve been doing what I like to do.”