There are no truer words to Amanda Stoner, international studies and geography major at West Virginia University, who has always loved the outdoors and, especially, being in the water.
Over time, this childhood affinity for the environment evolved into a deep-rooted passion, which is now the bedrock of Stoner’s primary life goal: to advocate for communities and ecosystems that suffer from water contamination.
Stoner’s devotion to achieving this goal has earned her the honor of being named a 2016 Udall Scholar, making her the third consecutive scholarship winner from WVU since 2014 – a precedent set by just seven other institutions out of the 49 colleges and universities included in this year’s awarding cycle.
“My family still refers to me as their ‘water bug,’” said Stoner, smiling as she chatted about her childhood and how she would run around searching streams and creeks, pulling out crayfish, tadpoles, minnows and anything else she could find that was interesting.
“I’d put stuff in a cup and take it around to show everybody,” she said.
This year, the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation selected 60 Udall Scholars from a pool of 482 college sophomores and juniors. Scholars are selected based on their level of commitment to careers related to the environment, American Indian health care or tribal policy, as well as their leadership potential, record of public service and academic achievement.
“Being recognized as a Udall Scholar requires a combination of academic excellence, advocacy, leadership and service,” said Todd Petty, WVU faculty advisor for the Udall Scholarship program and associate dean for academic administration in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.
“It can be a challenge to develop all of those areas simultaneously, particularly as an undergrad,” Petty continued. “It really requires a student to be intentional in both academics and extra-curricular activities.”
Stoner does not fall short when it comes to intentionality. As a rising senior with a 4.0 GPA., she has been very intentional with her time at WVU – especially with hours spent outside of the classroom.
On average, she devotes at least 14 hours per week – and some weeks, more than 20 – to various organizations focused on water quality rights, environmental sustainability, and addressing poverty, hunger and injustice.
Among those organizations are Oxfam America at WVU, of which she is the co-founder and president; WVU Sierra Student Coalition (treasurer/president); Monongahela Group of the West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club (vice chair); WVU Model United Nations Club (delegate to environmental committees); Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement; International Justice Mission at WVU (co-vice president); and the WVU Food Justice Lab.
Inevitably, Stoner’s focused efforts are reaping invaluable rewards and fueling her passion for advocating on behalf of marginalized communities.
“One of the most rewarding emails I’ve ever received was from an organization in Jordan called the Collateral Repair Project,” said Stoner. “OAWVU organized and led a WVU Syrian Refugee Campaign to help raise funds and awareness about the crisis in Syria and the plight of its refugees.
“We raised over $1,000 in just one week. After we sent them the money, they sent us an email back with pictures of about 260 adults and children who were able to eat for an entire month because of the funds we raised.
“That was the best email I’ve ever received. I was sitting in the Mountainlair when I opened it, and I just started crying.”
Other high points of Stoner’s college career include speaking on behalf of the WVU Sierra Student Coalition during a public hearing in Pittsburgh for the proposed federal Stream Protection Rule, and working alongside professors whom she classifies as “WVU’s finest” – Jim Kotcon, associate professor of plant pathology in the Davis College, and Karen Culcasi, associate professor of geography in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. Stoner’s plans for the future are just as ambitious as her undergraduate career.
“I know I want to go to grad school, specifically, American University in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “I would love to participate in their global environmental policy program.
“After that, I’m still working on my plan. I know I want to work in communities that are having problems with either water access or water quality, and also help advocate for their water rights while building their community and environmental awareness.”
Amid all the hard work and aspirational planning, Stoner is still able to reconnect with the uninhibited “inner child” within and do some daydreaming.
“If I could have any superpower, it would definitely be the ability to bend time,” she said, as she laughed. “If I’m having a really hectic day with a hundred different things to do, I would just stop time so that I could get done what I need to do. Or maybe take a nap, or read, or just watch Netflix!”
And, no surprise, she remembers to cover all the bases.
“Of course, I also wouldn’t age while I exist in that time bubble,” she added.
Despite not having actual superpowers, Stoner still seems superhuman with everything she has accomplished, and everything she is planning. And regardless of where her plans take her in the near future, Stoner’s heart will ultimately lead her home.
“I think I will always come back to West Virginia,” she said. “I love to travel, and I want to take advantage of traveling by seeing the best practices and methods, then apply those here in my home state.”