Three Fulbright finalists

Two students, one alumna take their research projects abroad
Fulbright finalists from the University of Maine are, from left to right, Eric Miller, Emily Craig and Jesse Walters. Photo by Adam Küykendall

Three Fulbright finalists

Two students, one alumna take their research projects abroad

Emily Craig, Eric Miller and Jesse Walters were offered Fulbright grants for their research projects based on their academic achievement and demonstrated leadership potential.

Craig, a 2018 alumna from Stonington, Connecticut, expects to do research in Sri Lanka. She plans to explore environmental origins of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) — one of the country’s leading causes of death.

Miller, of Wausau, Wisconsin, is examining payments for environmental services (PES) to promote conservation and resource management in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Laos.

And Walters, from Klickitat, Washington, is looking at how sulfur — an element critical to life, climate and the economy — is exchanged between the Earth’s surface and interior. He is based in Frankfurt, Germany.

Craig plans to examine environmental sources of CKDu and work to develop a screening assay that quickly tests for well water contamination. In 2018, the member of the Honors College earned a bachelor’s in marine science, with a concentration in marine biology and a minor in chemistry. After graduating, she worked as an associate with the Honors College.

Growing up in a coastal town, Craig developed a lasting appreciation of the ocean and marine life. She’s explored how people’s devastation of the natural environment affects human health and well-being. At UMaine, environmental toxicology was a focus of her research.

Craig credits her independent Honors College research with advancing her as an academic. She calls the marine sciences program an exemplary learning environment. “All of a sudden, school wasn’t just reciting information from a textbook, but realizing that there is a lot left to be researched and learned about,” says Craig, who likes to snorkel, paint and do yoga, and is interested in a career as a professor of marine toxicology.

Miller’s PES project brings together ecology, economics and global environmental policy — an ideal fit for his academic interests. The Eagle Scout is pursuing two master’s degrees, an M.S. in resource economics and policy, and an M.A. in global policy, with a concentration in environmental policy.

The program operates in more than 140 countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic achievement and demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

He describes payments for environmental services as market-based incentives — similar to subsidies — offered to forest owners, farmers and other landowners to encourage conservation of natural resources that provide essential broader ecological services.

“It’s a flexible tool, as it can be applied to communicate the value of a resource that is difficult to quantify through traditional valuation techniques,” says Miller, who snowboards, camps, canoes, cycles and bakes bread. “I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many different perspectives as well as finding out how I’ll grow as an individual from this experience.”

At UMaine, Miller has learned technical skills and gained wisdom from mentors. He’s considering a career as a policy analyst at an environmental policy think tank, as a water resource economist for a federal agency, or as an employee at the U.S. Department of State.

Walters, an Earth science doctoral student, examines subduction zones — where two pieces of Earth’s crust collide. When seafloor rock sinks into the inner Earth, he’ll explore whether sulfur remains in it or if it’s transferred to volcanoes that overlie subduction zones, then is returned to the surface.

As a youngster in the small logging town of Klickitat, where his high school graduating class totaled seven students, Walters hiked, camped, rafted and solved mysteries of the natural world. “When I was growing up, my father became interested in gold prospecting and we would travel around the country mining in remote areas,” says Walters, who once fronted a heavy metal band and now plays guitar in the cover band Jesse and the Geodes. “I became drawn to how Earth’s rock formations develop and the chemical processes that drive our planet.”

The 2019 Chase Distinguished Research Assistant says at UMaine he’s become a more capable researcher, gained expertise on world-class laboratory instrumentation, and grown as a scientific writer and presenter. He’s interested in a career in academia and is passionate about sharing his research and excitement for science.

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