Philip Pitts, Outstanding Undergraduate Environmental Science Major Award

Major: Environmental science in the STEM Path to MBA program

Minors: Blount Scholars Program and social innovation and leadership

Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Favorite Experience at UA: I scrambled down the stairs, a chicken and bacon sandwich from the corner Spar crumbling in my hands, a Lucozade spilling down my trousers. I hit the pebbles below the Old College with a thud and ran to the edge of the water with a look of horror- I had missed the low tide by two whole hours, and the waves had already covered the rocks. I was studying at Aberystwyth University, nestled between the Ystwyth and Rheidol Rivers on the shores of Cardigan Bay, and the due date for my Aquatic Botany final project was fast approaching. In my infinite wisdom, I had neglected to remember that tides, much like the lunar phases that control them, shift on a daily basis. The rocky pools below the pier, containing the numerous seaweed and algae species needed for my portfolio, were covered in two feet of saltwater and sea foam. Rather than risk a headline in the Cambrian News, “American Student Drowns in Pursuit of Laminaria Digitata,” I decided to retreat to a coffee shop in defeat, my three species ID books, clipboard, Haribo gummies, and other various field accouterments in tow. After more than a few mochas and muffins, I abandoned my armchair residence to trudge back to my dorm and regroup for my shoreline attack the following morning. I spent two hours the next day slipping and sliding on beds of Fucus serratus, in search of the two remaining and elusive Rhodophycea species. I returned home, salty and smelling of seaweed, to type up the final report. Despite COVID restrictions, my time in Aberystwyth was marked by sporadic bouts of intense studying, copious amounts of coffee, and daily runs towards the saltmarshes on the cliffs of the town. The stereotypical “European jet setting adventures” of a typical study abroad were replaced with beach bonfires, plenty of walks to the castle ruins, and an unhealthy obsession with the Tesco produce section during the firebreak lockdown. And I absolutely loved it. The environment and pace of life matched the natural processes I was studying- and the persistent rain, surrounding rivers, and the ocean made the waters I hoped to protect one day an ever-present source of calm despite the craziness in the world around me.

Favorite Class: “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.” Dr. Bennett Bearden offered the famous, potentially apocryphal, Mark Twain quote on one of the first days of his Public Policy Development in Water Resources course. It set the tone for the ensuing weeks, in which we delved into the policy structures of water management in Alabama. Professor Bearden taught us to look at the world of natural resources from a new angle- one of lobbying and price tags, regulations and competing interests. As a bright-eyed idealist, I’d always held that our natural resources warranted protecting due to intrinsic value, rather than profitable use. Despite my personal eco-centric worldview, the class taught me to utilize the relevant red tape surrounding our natural environment for the better. Beyond the utility of the coursework, Dr. Bearden’s encyclopedic musical knowledge was just as engaging as the legal content. I learned just as much about classic rock icons in my time lingering after class as I did about water policy during the course.

Future Plans: My only current plans consist of a one-way ticket to southern Ireland. I grew up spending my summers with family on the sand dunes and rocky beaches of Wexford. It was where I first fell in love with the great outdoors. Though I eventually plan to pursue an MS in Water Policy or a JD, with the goal of working in international water governance and diplomacy, the next 12 months will consist of long beach walks, lots of Seamus Heaney, and trying to remember to cycle on the left side of the road rather than the right.