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One Student's Fight for Cleaner Air and Water

When Isabella Errigo (‘20) first entered BYU’s environmental science program, she didn’t know her journey would lead to winning the prestigious Fulbright scholarship—or to having the Utah legislative body cite her research in an effort to prevent pollution.

Errigo began by studying the effects of air pollution with Plant and Wildlife Science professor, Ben Abbott. After earning a College Undergraduate Research Award (CURA) to fund the study, she and Abbott found that air pollution was the cause of death in several scenarios—even if it wasn’t documented. Strokes, heart attacks, and even suicides were associated with air pollution’s effects on mental and physical health. Errigo knew she needed to do something with her research. She called dozens of members of Congress, asking for their ideas on how to improve the air pollution crisis.

Isabella Errigo standing beside the Utah State Capitol
Photo by Nick Rex

“I really care about science communication and environmental policy, and how we can communicate these issues effectively,” she says. “And it’s not just a political stance. Any harm we do to the environment impacts our own health and wellbeing, so we need to protect our planet.”

Not only has Errigo helped change her community domestically, but she’s set her sights on having an international impact.

While Errigo was in Guayaquil, Ecuador, studying water pathogens, she found how fecal bacteria polluted the water—leading to deadly diseases. It was this trip that triggered her interest in international research.

After her first trip, Errigo’s faculty advisor, Plant and Wildlife professor Paul Frandsen, then encouraged her to assist him with field work—where they would travel to Ecuador yet again to study elevational transect. After she returned home, Errigo was determined to continue studying environmental science internationally—and wanted to win a Fulbright scholarship to do so. The National Fulbright scholarship provides grants to individuals who want to pioneer a creative project, teach English abroad, or conduct independent research (either locally or internationally). Hundreds of thousands apply for the Fulbright every year, with only a couple thousand winning the grant.

Isabella Errigo examining a research sample
Photo by Nick Rex

Winning the Fulbright has opened significant opportunities for Errigo—she will live in Ecuador for ten months and will continue her research there. While there are understandable nerves at living in a foreign country for several months, she says, “I’m excited to create lifelong friendships with people like me.”

Meanwhile, Errigo is writing her master’s thesis on how wildfires affect Utah rivers. When it comes to finding ways to help her planet, both internationally and locally, Errigo is unstoppable.

Errigo knows that studying the environment is about more than just researching air pollution, wildfires, and water pathogens; it is about changing the community around her. Combining her two passions—community networking and protecting the environment—Errigo is set to make an indelible impact.