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Textiles Student Named Udall Scholar

06/07/2012

In a fall studio called Changing Fabric SurfacesMargaret Kearney 13 TX created a fabric collage called Quilt for a New Community. At first glance, the simple patchwork design and contrasting colors evoke a traditional mid-western friendship quilt. But the blackened, oozing patterns in Kearney’s silkscreened squares reference something more ominous: the underground flow of oil that would pass through America’s heartland with the stalled and highly controversial Keystone XL extension to the Keystone Pipeline.

Kearney’s ability to weave formal and aesthetic concerns with her environmental activism has won her national recognition as a Udall Scholar, a program that recognizes college juniors and seniors on the basis of their commitment to careers in the environment, health care or tribal public policy. The foundation was established by Congress in 1992 in honor the late Morris K. Udall and the late Stewart L. Udallbrothers, environmental advocates and both Congressmen from Arizona.

Winning a Udall scholarship is “such a great opportunity to connect with other people in the field,” Kearney says. “Going into textiles, I really had no idea what it would mean to relate my activist work with textile work, so it’s been exciting to develop a process for myself.”

In winning the scholarship – which is typically awarded to students majoring in science or environmental policy –Kearney became the first student from an art and design school to be recognized by the Udall Foundation since the awards were first given in 1996. In addition to receiving a $5,000 prize, she will fly to Tuscon, AZ in August to meet with community leaders, policymakers and the 79 other 2012 Udall Scholars.

“I’ve been in this community of young people working on environmental issues, so I meet a lot of other dedicated students across the country,” says Kearney, who has worked for the Sierra Student Coalition since high school and currently serves as chair of its curriculum development committee. “But it always felt different, because they were studying environmental issues and I was in a whole different world academically. So it’s really validating to be chosen as a Udall Scholar, even if I’m not approaching this work in a policy or scientific way.”

Nominated for the award by Professor of Philosophy Yuriko Saito, Kearney competed against 585 candidates representing 274 colleges and universities. “In representing the problematic nature of the Keystone Pipeline project and its impact on the environment, Margaret has emphasized how artists and designers can really take on an environmentally activist role,” Saito says. “I think that made her application stand out, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for her.”

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tags: public engagement, social responsibility, students, sustainability, Textiles

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The Providence River and cityscape as seen from the southern edge of campus, behind the Industrial Design and
Architecture buildings.