Jessica Casey, 18, of Vermont, achieved something few high-schoolers do without some serious athletic or academic cred: She wrote her way to a full-ride scholarship, winning Green Mountain College’s First in Sustainability Scholarship Award.

Her essay focused on her determination to help restore a place near to her heart: St. Albans Bay, part of Vermont’s iconic Lake Champlain area. The bay water was so contaminated by phosphorus that at one point dogs were dying from drinking it.

Explaining the work she’s started and how a Green Mountain College education could help continue her cause to restore the area to its natural beauty and recreational potential earned Casey tuition, room/board and fees for all four years of study, starting this fall.

Scholarship winner Jessica Casey sits near St. Albans Bay, where she grew up. Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Casey

“I chose to address a big problem, with a focus on making a difference in my own community,” Casey tells GrindTV.

She included shared concerns from community members and spoke to the work she’s done involving both wildlife and the environment.

In her essay, Casey wrote of the place she grew up and calls it a laid-back, close-knit community. Now, however, “The shallow and still waters typical of the bay pool the phosphorus, creating an unappealing, even dangerous environment for people, animals, and marine life,” she said.

She questioned whether the state of Vermont and elected officials have done enough to address the problem, adding, “I was last on the St. Albans Bay beach in August 2016. Once again, the smell was obnoxious, and the sand quality was also odd and unpleasant. This was once a place where I loved to watch my dad play baseball, and then all of us would enjoy a carefree swim in the water. But the excessive phosphorus has damaged this area almost beyond recognition.”

St. Albans Bay

Dangerous levels of phosphorous have built up over time in the shallow bay water. Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Casey

The college may be the first to formally recognize Casey as someone who exemplifies the next generation of sustainability professionals, but her peers should take notice. Increasingly, millennials are showing they want to make a difference, and those who are green-leaning are seeing how an environmental education could help them make an impact.

“The environment has been decaying in front of us, and the current president has done nothing about it, and in my opinion has even made it worse,” says Casey, who plans to study renewable energy (specifically hydraulics) or water quality.

“The Earth will continue to suffer if millennials do not help fight for our planet. The pullout from the Paris Climate Accord is an example of why we need more people to step up, and, in particular, for millennials to step into careers in sustainability.”

Think you’ve got a story and the skills to write your way to next year’s First in Sustainability Scholarship Award? Any high school senior applying for admission to Green Mountain College’s class of 2022 can try their luck at when submission opens this fall.

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