She has worried, however, that much of the agricultural land around her hometown of Somers, Conn., and elsewhere has been disappearing, much of it converted to housing developments. That concern, along with her desire to work to preserve farmlands, has earned her the Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for students preparing for environmental careers.
“I’ve applied for a lot of local scholarships and haven’t gotten all of them, so I wasn’t expecting to get a national one,” said Gately. “But in the back of my mind I always had this weird feeling about it. I was sitting in class when my professor started talking about a student who won the scholarship, and I couldn’t believe he was talking about me!”
Gately’s interest in improving farming practices to help preserve farmland started early. By age 19, she had been awarded two grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, including one for $70,000 to work with a soil conservationist and redesign the layout of her family’s farm. That effort turned the farm into a model of farmland conservation by demonstrating how farmers can use the land without harming it.
Gately enrolled at URI in part because of the university’s Peckham Farm, where students learn to raise and care for livestock. She said the farm felt like home, and she was pleased that the faculty offered her a job there even before she was accepted for admittance.
“Since sheep are my specialty, I’m at the farm all the time during lambing season,” she said. “I slept there last night to help the last ones give birth. By being
there to help, we save a lot of lives.”
Originally enrolled as a chemistry major with an interest in a pharmacy career, Gately is now studying animal and veterinary science at URI, with a goal of becoming a livestock veterinarian. “I had grown up with animals all my life, and at first I didn’t think I wanted to do it for a career,” she explained. “I thought it was something I had already done. But at URI I discovered that livestock is where my passion is; I just didn’t realize it.”
In addition to her coursework and her job at Peckham Farm, Gately has been elected president of the URI animal and veterinary science club, whose members volunteer their time and conduct fundraisers for pet refuges and other charities while also touring vet schools and learning about their future careers.
“We help the community while also helping each other,” said the URI student.
Gately’s ultimate objective is to work with zoonotic diseases – those that can be passed from animals to humans, like mad cow and avian influenza. “Last year I took a diseases course and saw how these diseases relate to human overpopulation because human living space has taken over the places where animals live. Eventually I want to get a master’s of public health degree and work in the regulatory world, somewhere at the junction of the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
The Udall Scholarship will go a long way toward helping her obtain her objective. In addition to a $5,000 stipend toward her educational expenses during her senior year at URI, she will travel to Arizona in August with other Udall Scholarship winners for leadership training and to meet with national environmental and health policy experts.
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URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno Photography.