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Published May 15, 2020
Tessa Wittman, of Laramie, is among three University of Wyoming students to receive the university’s top award for undergraduates.
The award is based on academic excellence and achievement; service to the university; participation and leadership in the community and campus activities; and citizenship qualities.
Wittman will graduate this month with a 3.9 grade-point average as a double major in wildlife and fisheries biology and management, and environment and natural resources, with minors in honors, sustainability, and reclamation and restoration ecology.
A nominator cited Wittman as a model student-scholar who has eagerly sought out opportunities to advance her understanding of environmental challenges through applied research and extensive fieldwork.
Drew Bennett, the Whitney MacMillan Professor of Practice of Private Lands Stewardship, has supervised a UW project with Wittman, and says she is the “most outstanding student” he has worked with in his eight years of supervising students at three different universities.
“Perhaps Tessa’s most impressive characteristic is her tireless work ethic that is driven by a dedication to the issues she works on,” Bennett says. “In supervising her research, I have been amazed at how hard she works to understand new and complex ideas. I have come to appreciate her leadership style, in which she leads by example. She embodies a spirit of collaboration that is critical to solving many societal challenges.”
Another nominator, Joslyn Cassady, a UW Honors College associate lecturer, says Wittman is able to make connections between seemingly disparate materials and address problems -- and is able to collaborate and generate work that is sensible, insightful and relevant to the pressing environmental challenge.
“It goes without saying that Tessa is an impressive student -- strong work ethic, curious, motivated, organized and smart,” Cassady says. “She always sat in the front row, took in every word and listened meaningfully to students' contributions. It was one of those great courses that was driven by a student who came to class prepared, was simultaneously open minded and opinionated, and who drove thoughtful and lively class discussions.”
More than anything, one of her past instructors says, Wittman’s character as a hard-working student is what made her stand out among her peers. Professor Peter Stahl taught her in his “Reclamation of Drastically Disturbed Lands” course.
“In my 25 years on the UW faculty, I have not worked with a student with a stronger record of academic accomplishment, active leadership and contributions to the University of Wyoming and the local community than Tessa Wittman,” he says.
Wittman, a nontraditional student, has immersed herself on and off campus. She has presented her research work on a national level and was invited to speak at the 100th annual meeting of the American Society of Mammologists, but, because of COVID-19 concerns, the meeting has been canceled.
Wittman has led workshops for others not related to her field of study and has volunteered for projects in the community and in the state, relying on her expertise. She is committed to making a difference for the environment and has received numerous awards for her work.
“I remain committed to supporting diversity in our ecosystems and community engagement activities. As an undergraduate, my work has earned recognition from scholarship committees on campus and beyond,” she says.
Wittman was UW’s first national Udall Scholarship recipient in 13 years, which she says is her most prestigious achievement while at UW. The scholarship recognizes college sophomores and juniors for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to American Indian nations or to the environment.
“I am so grateful to have my scholastic achievements, leadership, dedication to problem-solving and hard work recognized by these awards,” she adds.