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New Trillium Scholar to Bolster McMaster Water Research Program

The latest recipient of a Philomathia scholarship will be making waves at McMaster University’s renowned water program in Hamilton, Ont., beginning in August.

Kelsey Leonard, who made history by becoming the first Native American graduate of Oxford University in England, has been awarded a Philomathia Trillium Scholarship to study and research water at the Canadian university. Among the things her research will look at is the adaptation of First Nations communities to issues caused by climate change.

Kelsey Leonard. Photo via McMaster Daily News

“Extreme events like floods cause storm surges that overload nutrients into bodies of water – how do indigenous communities manage events like this? How do these communities maintain economically viable natural resources?” Leonard told the McMaster Daily News. “These are the sorts of questions I want to ask.”

Her arrival is the latest boost to the Water program at McMaster, which takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of one of Earth’s most vital resources. The program was established through funding from the Philomathia Foundation in 2012, and examines many key issues relating to the present and future of water.

Leonard told the McMaster Daily News that bringing her research to McMaster was an easy decision for her to make.

“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “If we’re going to make innovative changes for water resource management, it has to come from an interdisciplinary approach. We can’t solve these issues in isolation. So I’m thrilled to be at McMaster.”

Water science is a growing field that is vitally important to our continued sustainability on the planet, and touches nearly all facets of life on earth: everything from big picture thinking such as healthcare and the global environment, to pressing concerns such as city-planning. The water program looks at important and far-reaching topics, including water security, water quality, and climate – and how they intersect with the realities of our modern society.

Beginning on October 5, McMaster Water Week will shine a spotlight on the program at the university, with lectures, workshops, public events and more. The week is designed to raise awareness of the program’s fantastic research advances and importance of the issues at hand.
Leonard, the Philomathia Trillium Scholar recipient, is a natural fit for the program, and will bring her unique life experience to her work at the university. She grew up on a reserve in Long Island, NY, as a member of the Shinnecock Nation of indigenous people; water has always played an important role in her life.

“Growing up, you adapt, but you sort of realize the disparate nature between what happens on a reserve and what happens in the rest of society,” she told the McMaster Daily News.

Her background informed her interest in water science and policy, which she parlayed into a master’s degree in water science, policy and management at Oxford – after a stop at Harvard University. Along the way, she earned a law degree as well.

Philomathia is thrilled to play a role in furthering the research of exceptional scholars like Kelsey Leonard, and is eager to see what insights her important work will turn up.