Ashley DeBoard said it took a year of living in a big city before deciding to “become part of an environmental solution instead of just a contributor to the problems.”

Now DeBoard, 20, an undergraduate student in environmental science with a policy emphasis at Northern Arizona University, is one of 15 students nationally to receive an Environmental Protection Agency fellowship to support her studies and dream to make a difference.

“I’m a science nerd who wants to be an environmental activist,” DeBoard said.

The EPA’s two-year Greater Research Opportunities Research Fellowship will contribute $30,000 to help defray the cost of DeBoard’s education and future work researching water conservation issues in the Southwest. The fellowship also includes an EPA internship, which has not yet been determined.

“I originally started college as a pre-med major at Arizona State University, but it was really easy to lose site of environmental ethics while living in Phoenix,” DeBoard said. “It became clear to me that my roots are in Flagstaff in NAU’s wonderful environmental science program. I want to make a difference in the environment and the university’s programs are helping me learn how to do just that.”

She chose to research water issues because, “water in the Southwest is equivalent to gold and I’d like to see policies reflect that.”

Working in an outdoor education setting contributed to her academic success, said DeBoard, now a junior. She has maintained a 4.00 GPA throughout her college career and is currently enrolled in NAU’s Honors Program. A graduate of Flagstaff’s Sinagua High School, she attributes receiving the EPA funding to her good grades and the effort she put into the application.

“The tools I have been given by my NAU professors have assisted me in vocalizing my goals and drive to accomplish what I want to do in the future,” DeBoard said. “I also had the opportunity to work for NAU Outdoors, which really added to my experiences with nature.”

DeBoard’s plans include graduate studies at NAU and pursing either an environmental doctorate or law degree.

“I’m glad I will be able to concentrate on science instead of how to pay the rent,” said DeBoard, who has taken many jobs to stay in college, including waiting tables and delivering pizza.

According to Jacqueline Vaughn, a political science professor, “Ashley is not waiting for someone to hand her a career on a silver platter. She is blazing her own path. She is strongly motivated and takes responsibility for building her skills.”