Junior Wins Udall Scholarship, Rutgers’ First Recipient Since 2004

It’s the latest academic honor for Julianne Chan, an environmental engineering student who also was selected as a Goldwater Scholar
By Mike Lucas | Rutgers Today, May 3, 2024

Julianne Chan has focused her time at Rutgers on finding ways to improve the environment. 

A junior majoring in environmental engineering at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Chan worked on projects studying plastic pollution and is involved in a collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on a project analyzing the prevalence of microplastics in wastewater. She extracts and analyzes the microplastic concentrations from different stages of wastewater treatment to assess the efficiency of treatment plants to remove microplastics before they reach the environment. 

It is this dedication to the environment that earned Chan a Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, an honor which identifies future leaders in the environmental, tribal public policy or Native American health care fields.  

The award “showcases my care and my passion for the environment. I'm just happy that people noticed,” said Chan, who grew up in Manahawkin, N.J. – an area shaped by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and other bodies of water. 

“I originally wanted to study biomedical engineering and become a doctor,” said Chan. “But I heard that by becoming an environmental engineer I could possibly help more people by providing clean drinking water and cleaning up polluted sites. Living so close to the beach and in a tourist town, I’ve always cared about water and pollution. It all just clicked when I came to college.”

Chan, an Honors College student attending the School of Engineering, also is one of four Rutgers–New Brunswick students this spring who were named Goldwater Scholars, a national honor for undergraduates who plan to pursue research careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Last year, she was also named an Ernest F. Hollings Scholar from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a national honor for rising juniors pursuing public service careers in oceanic, environmental and atmospheric sciences. 

The 21-year-old is the first Rutgers student to be named a Udall Scholar since 2004, said Anne Wallen, director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships at Rutgers-New Brunswick. 

“New Jerseyans care about the environment, and Julianne is a great representative of the state and our institution,” said Wallen. “I always think it’s important to see Rutgers students in contention for national awards like this, particularly federal awards. It speaks to our mission as a land-grant, public flagship institution that our students are making these kinds of contributions and getting recognized across the country for their work.” 

Chan – a graduate of Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, a magnet high school in Manahawkin, N.J., where she studied oceanography, aquatic ecology, marine biology and environmental science – is one of 55 students in the nation to receive the Udall Scholarship. 

“I didn't think that I would win it, to be honest,” Chan said. “I was really surprised.” 

Udall scholarships recognize U.S. college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to Native American issues or the environment. Udall Scholars are provided with up to $7,000 for academic expenses and are invited to spend five days in Tucson, Ariz., at scholar orientation and have access to the Udall Alumni Network. 

Chan said the money “will definitely help” with paying for graduate school application fees “as well as supporting my undergraduate career, paying for my tuition, my student loans and my housing.” 

Aiming to pursue a doctorate degree in environmental engineering, Chan said she wants to keep researching emerging contaminants such as microplastics, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (also known as PFAS), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or pharmaceuticals.  
“I think the topic of environmental chemistry and toxicology is really interesting, so I want to keep doing that in while I pursue my Ph.D.,” said Chan, adding that her goal is becoming a professor and teaching such courses or working for the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 
Chan, who enjoys drawing comics and playing video games in her free time, assists in the lab of Nicole Fahrenfeld, an associate professor with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

“Julianne is an excellent team member – she’s enthusiastic, capable of working with anyone, has stellar time management, and strong communication skills,” Fahrenfeld said. “She takes initiative, whether it is volunteering to help with our outreach activities or asking to submit her research to present at a conference our lab doesn’t normally attend.” 

Fahrenfeld added Chan “somehow balances this with her excellent academic record” as well as being president of the Rutgers chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and working as an ambassador for the School of Engineering.  
“In the lab, she's helped with multiple projects on microplastic pollution,” said Fahrenfeld, adding that Chan is presenting preliminary results from one of these projects at the New Jersey Water Environment Association meeting on May 8. “She's certainly deserving of this scholarship.”  

– Kitta MacPherson contributed to this article.

FULL SOURCE: Rutgers Today | Junior Wins Udall Scholarship, Rutgers’ First Recipient Since 2004