Fairfield University senior wins prestigious Udall Scholarship

Image: A J WattsWhen Arturo Jaras Watts '13 was a freshman at Fairfield University, he came upon students using chalk to write environmental facts on the sidewalk to raise awareness, and he was inspired. In the years that followed, the economics major, a Durham, New Hampshire resident, became a passionate advocate for investing in a brighter environmental future, and his interest hasn't gone unnoticed: Recently, he won a prestigious Udall Scholarship, a $5,000 national award given to students dedicated to careers in the environment.

The U.S. Congress established the Udall Foundation as an independent executive branch agency in 1992 to honor Morris K. Udall's 30 years of service in the House of Representatives. In 2009, Congress enacted legislation to honor Stewart L. Udall and added his name to the Foundation, which promotes awareness and enjoyment of the nation's natural resources, fosters recognition of public lands, provides educational outreach and works on critical environmental issues.

Jaras Watts' faculty advisor, Dina Franceschi, Ph.D., associate professor of economics, encouraged him to apply for the scholarship. He admits that until he came to Fairfield, he didn't know much about the subject. "Fairfield was really where I discovered this passion," he said.

Once introduced to environmental activism, Jaras Watts quickly immersed himself in the movement and eventually led the way to the formation of a new student group, The Proactive Investment Club, dedicated to promoting investments that create positive social change in addition to generating a financial return. The economist-in-training said, "My passion is in the crossroads between investment and environmentalism. The [Proactive Investment Club] is where the bulk of my environmental achievement has occurred."

In just two years, the group was able to work with Fairfield University administration to allocate $15,000 in student-written grants for on-campus sustainability projects.

Jaras Watts hopes that the Proactive Investment Club will continue this work to establish a permanent revolving green fund at Fairfield. "We hope to make this something that exists in the DNA of the University to continue to make an impact long after I graduate." Jaras Watts also hopes to expand PIC nationally and start establishing chapters at different schools around the country. "Investing in positive change is an idea that students are getting excited about all around the country. There's a lot of potential in this strategy to make a difference."

In class, Jaras Watts' interest in the environment led him towards economics augmented by courses in other disciplines. For example, a social psychology course taught by Dr. Michael Andreychik, assistant professor of psychology, has had the most impact on Jaras Watts so far. "Social psychology totally changed how I see the world and how I approach activism in efforts to make a difference," he said. According to Jaras Watts, Fairfield's core curriculum has given him exposure to various other subjects. "The core has helped me approach economics in what I consider to be a holistic way. As a result of that, I don't just look at the subject in a one-dimensional sense."

This summer, Jaras Watts will remain on campus and serve as a research assistant to Dr. Mark LeClair, professor of economics. Together they will research social business and philanthropy. His role will consist of reviewing the existing research and co-writing a journal article on their findings. In addition, he will travel to Arizona in August to participate in Udall Scholarship orientation.

Following graduation, Jaras Watts plans to pursue a Ph.D. in economics with a focus on socially responsible investment. "I think if there's one big lesson that's come out of [my time at Fairfield] it's that compassion is not enough. It's absolutely important to get out there and actively try to create change. Because if we don't, who will?"

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950, mguinness@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 22, 2013

Vol. 45, No. 271

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