Blake Bjornson, a former Montana State University student body president, has won an elite Udall Scholarship.
Bjornson was one of 50 Udall scholars chosen nationwide.
"It was very exciting. There was definitely some shouting involved," said Bjornson, a junior from Missoula and Whitefish and an honors student majoring in mechanical engineering.
He is MSU's fifth Udall scholar, in recognition of his commitment to an environmentally related career.
For winning, Bjornson not only receives $5,000, but he joins an elite group of university students who will "change our future," said Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the MSU Honors Program. Bjornson will meet the other Udall scholars in August during a four-day orientation in Tucson, Ariz. At the same time, he will learn about new environmentally focused opportunities that will be available to him.
"As is the case with other major scholarships, the Udall is incredibly competitive," Lee said. "This scholarship recognizes students who have already demonstrated their leadership and commitment to the environment on campus and beyond. To be named a Udall scholar carries much weight and credibility. It tells the world who Blake is."
Bjornson has done much to change the MSU campus, Lee said. Bjornson has been at the forefront of bringing MSU up to green standards. He was president, as a sophomore, of MSU's Network of Environmentally Conscious Organizations. As a member of the Strategic Planning Council, Bjornson insistently advocated for inclusion of the sustainability goals contained in MSU's strategic plan.
Bjornson is currently working on the Smart Building Initiative with Zach Brown, a Bozeman native and fellow Udall scholar who is student body president at the University of Montana. The Montana Board of Regents hired Bjornson and Brown last year to develop a program that would cut utility costs on both campuses while making buildings safer. The two plan to involve students and incorporate financial incentives in their project. They expect to present their completed project to the Regents in May.
Working with others is the key to his achievements; he doesn't want to claim his accomplishments are his alone, Bjornson said.
"Nobody does this on his own," Bjornson said. "Everything that has been done was because of group effort."
His interest in the environment was first inspired by Glacier National Park, an influence that he described in his Udall application, Bjornson said. As a high school student, he founded and served as president of the Environmental Club. He often climbed the peaks in Glacier and still remembers the scene he saw a few years ago when forest fires were burning through the park. The contrast between the smoke and glaciers was stark.
"It was powerful," Bjornson said. "Those fires were happening more often and more often. Forest fires are natural, but I think there's a link there. You can really see the human effect on our landscape."
As an upcoming senior, he will work in Bozeman this summer as an intern with McKinstry, a Seattle-based company charged with upgrading MSU lighting, buildings and HVAC systems to increase efficiency. The company is a consulting, construction, energy and facility services firm that was hired to reduce energy and operation costs in auxiliary buildings.
Bjornson said he looks forward to the internship and seeing how the experience will affect his future after graduating from MSU. At this point, he is considering a career in engineering or possibly earning a master’s degree in business.