Four UM Graduate Students Named Prestigious Wyss Scholars

MISSOULA – Four University of Montana graduate students have been named Wyss Scholars for Conservation for the American West. This prestigious program provides financial support to UM graduate students who are committed to careers in Western land conservation through a federal or state land management agency or at a nonprofit in the region.

The scholarship program is funded through the Wyss Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to supporting innovative, lasting solutions that improve lives, empower communities and strengthen connections to the land. Wyss scholarships significantly reduce the cost of graduate school attendance at UM.

A UM student stands in the forest
UM graduate student Sawyer Connelly is pursuing a master's degree in environmental studies while dually enrolled in UM's Alexander Blewett III School of Law.

Sawyer Connelly from Hardwick, Vermont, is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in environmental studies at UM while dually enrolled in a juris doctorate at UM’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law and UM’s Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Program, in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation Connelly said he wants to protect the natural world and increase accessibility and equity by helping shape tomorrow’s conservation funding mechanisms and policy.

Connelly received his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Colorado College. After a brief period working as a fly-fishing guide around the world, he spent 5 years working for nonprofits, and for state and federal governments on hunting, fishing, and public land issues.

A UM student skiing
Kirsten Gerbatsch, a third-year UM law student, was selected as a Wyss scholar for her interests in environmental and American Indian law.

Kirsten Gerbatsch from Oakland, New Jersey, is a third-year student in UM’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law, with a concentration in environmental and American Indian law. Gerbatsch is passionate about reimagining the future of natural resource protection and wants to forge new legal models to conserve natural and cultural resources by promoting Native self-determination efforts and tribal conservation practices.

Gerbatsch earned her bachelor’s degree in American history from Reed College. Her drive to hold corporations and governing entities accountable to protect the environment began when she lived in Butte — the largest Superfund complex in America. Years later, when Gerbatsch worked for the Montana Budget and Policy Center during several state legislative sessions, she decided to pivot her career toward conservation law. She said she realized that rural communities bear the dual burdens of post-mining ecological disaster and boom-and-bust industry, yet are often barred from the decision-making process. She also witnessed problematic misperceptions of American Indians that negatively impact the public policy process.

“At this juncture in my career, I know that natural resources issues cannot be siloed, nor can sovereign tribal nations,” Gerbatsch said.

A UM student sits in a creek on a rock
UM graduate student Audrey Glendenning is pursuing a master's degree in resource conservation as a Wyss scholar.

Audrey Glendenning, from Germantown, Maryland, earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and policy from the University of Maryland before pursuing a master’s degree in resource conservation at UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

Glendenning is passionate about public lands policy, in particular how public lands planning documents and land ownership patterns impact and influence Indigenous use and interest.

“I look forward to a career with a nonprofit or government agency using policy knowledge and research to advocate for the conservation of public lands in the West and amplify tribal perspectives on land management,” she said.

A UM student skiing
Amy Katz, a UM graduate student, is combining UM's certificate in GIS with a master's degree in environmental studies.

Amy Katz from Durango, Colorado, received a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Bates College, followed by a Fulbright grant to teach university students in Laos. At UM, Katz is combining UM’s certificate in geographic information systems certification with a master’s degree in environmental studies. Katz plans to support conservation efforts in Montana through collaborative problem solving, policy, and visual and spatial representations of landscapes. Born and raised in southwest Colorado, Katz developed a desire for conservation through hiking, running and skiing on public lands.  

“More recently, I have seen how successful conservation is achieved through building community and communicating policy to the public – the latter of which can happen through visual representations of places,” Katz said.

Katz said she is able to bolster these skills through her graduate work in environmental policy, GIS and in the nonprofits the Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Program and the Heart of the Rockies, where she worked for the summer to facilitate conversations around rural development and landscape conservation design in western Montana.

The Wyss scholarship program is funded through the Wyss Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to supporting innovative, lasting solutions that improve lives, empower communities and strengthen connections to the land. Wyss scholarships significantly reduce the cost of graduate school attendance at UM.  

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Contact: Len Broberg, professor, UM Environmental Studies, 406-243-5209, len.broberg@umontana.edu.