U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Grants Ashley Funk '16 a Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship

November 13, 2014
Ashley Funk rides her bike

At the age of 14, Ashley Funk ’16 became determined to decrease America’s addiction to fossil fuels. Funk has worked towards this goal ever since, and was recently awarded a Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) fellowship from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in support of her efforts.

Funk joins a line of Wellesley women who have won one of these prestigious fellowships in recent years, including Tiana Ramos '13, Ellen Bechtel '14, and Kate Corcoran '15. The GRO fellowship program forms part of the agency’s efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and encourage leadership in the nation’s environmental science, research restoration, pollution prevention, and sustainability efforts. Awarded to 40 American students annually, it provides approximately $50,000 toward undergraduate study and an EPA fellowship to students interested in environmental careers.

Growing up, Funk cherished her hometown community, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, but was pained to see the lasting ill effects of the town’s coal mining heritage on human health and the environment. Once prolific, mining has not taken place in the area for nearly a century; yet still, the forests had been sullied with mounds of coal waste. They were impossible for Funk to ignore even after all this time due to the proximity of one such dump to her back yard. When she was 17, she filed a petition for rulemaking with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality with hopes of reducing carbon emissions.

Now a junior at Wellesley, Funk continues to invest her energy in the need for social and infrastructural rebuilding. She has served as the vice president of Wellesley Energy and Environmental Defense (WEED) and as a core member of Fossil Free Wellesley, but has moved “more toward working for structural shifts in how the environment is viewed and taught at Wellesley.”

Ashley Funk and other Scoop residents have lunch togetherShe is involved in a student group striving to make environmental studies pedagogy more inclusive to racial and ideological difference. Funk explains, “My experiences growing up in my hometown motivated me to start working for environmental and social causes, hoping that a societal shift away from fossil fuels would spare other communities from going down a similar path as my own.” The group's efforts include planning the lecture series Going Beyond Green: Race, Difference, and the Environment. Funk also serves on the Sustainability Advisory Committee, a group of administrative, faculty, staff, and student representatives advising the president on strategies to implement greener policies at Wellesley. Funk is a passionate resident and member of the Sustainability Cooperative (SCoop), which she calls her most valued community on campus.

She is currently taking an engineering course at Olin and at work on a wireless bicycle locking device. Looking forward, Funk hopes to use her experience in both design engineering and activism to improve the sustainability of communities through social collaboration and personal empowerment. She observes that the two disciplines work off of similar platforms: solution driven strategies that rely on teamwork and problem-solving. She says, “I'm still trying to figure out exactly how my career goals will materialize, but I can look to other companies, such as One Earth Design started by a Wellesley alum [Catlin Powers ’09], that are making similar efforts in other parts of the world.”

Whatever career Funk decides to pursue, the Wellesley community, including her faculty mentor Marcia Thomas, senior instructor in biological sciences, believes in her future. Thomas notes, “Ashley brings the kind of synergy that I cherish most in our Environmental Studies students, an effective combination of work inside and outside the classroom […] Beyond Wellesley and Olin, she has been active on a national level and is already recognized as a leader with vision, compassion and resolve: I expect that recognition to amplify.”

—Jocelyn Wong ’15

Photos: Kathy Long ’15

N.B. Ashley always wears a bicycle helmet, except for grassy photo shoots, and suggests all bike riders do too.