Edwards excels at expansive array of study, research, and service

July 28, 2014

By hammersmith

Leah Edwards is an investment manager. And a university sustainability researcher. And for short periods of time, she was a banker for the world’s poorest women, a Central American farmer, and on the staff of an Irish law firm.

The Class of 2010 Flinn Scholar and 2014 graduate of the University of Arizona pursued a wide range of interests and study across the globe during her college years, leading to prestigious awards including the Udall Scholarship, unique internships, and comprehensive environmental studies of major university events.

Edwards will begin her career in August at Dodge & Cox in San Francisco, an investment-management company founded in 1930 that provides U.S., global, and international equity; fixed income; and balanced account management from its Bay Area office.

At Dodge & Cox, Edwards will be part of a program where she will rotate departments every three months over the course of two years, at which point she will be placed in a permanent position.

Like many of her pursuits, the position at Dodge & Cox originated in her experience in the Flinn Scholars Program. She was first introduced to Dodge & Cox as an intern during summer 2013, learning about the opportunity from an announcement forwarded to current Flinn Scholars by an alumna already with the firm. She worked in the business integration, communication and legal departments and experienced amazing views of San Francisco Bay from the company’s Financial District office, a delight that will soon become a daily occurrence.

 “I fell in love with the company and became very interested in the industry, and the rest is history,” Edwards says.

Research and Sustainability

Edwards’ passion for environmental issues is undeniable. She devoted much of her undergraduate time to sustainability projects and research.

For instance, UA’s Homecoming was much more than a football game and parade down the mall for Edwards. It was a data-rich opportunity for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment.

To do this, Edwards used an inventory-based life-cycle assessment methodology, evaluating the impact of food, energy, waste, and materials for the 2012 Homecoming football game and its roughly 60,000 attendees, plus the tailgating and 23 alumni events. A second assessment was done in 2013.

And the project got very specific. Edwards says that to know the environmental impact of hamburgers served at Homecoming, the environmental impact of each hamburger ingredient needed to be calculated. A similar process was used to measure other impacts, from water bottles to travel.

“This was a very exciting project for me to be involved with. It was a good way to get a really in-depth look of what can be done to improve the sustainability of events,” Edwards says. “I feel as though I was able to meaningfully impact my community in a quantifiable way.”

The study found the majority of impact stemmed from travel, but there were ways to improve the sustainability of many aspects of the event. She worked with the university administration on policy decisions to mitigate the impact of events in ways both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. She was able to conduct these assessments with support from her two-year NASA Space Grant internship.

The onetime chair of the Students for Sustainability Waste Reduction Team also founded the “Ready, Set, Recycle!” Initiative with the hope of creating a system that was simple and easy. Last year, she worked with the university to purchase 3,000 new matching recycling bins with consistent signage, and then led the team of 20 volunteers in placing the bins throughout the university buildings.

In the classroom, Edwards completed her coursework and walked at UA’s May graduation with a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental and water-resource economics, a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a minor in public health.

In addition, Edwards received the Honors College First Year Prize in Research and was later awarded an Honors Undergraduate Research Grant. She conducted research during her freshman year in a chemical-engineering lab as well as independent research on animal-control policies in Pima County.  

The result of all of this work? Edwards was one of 50 people in the nation selected for the 2013 Udall Scholarship, a $5,000 award given annually to sophomores and juniors who are committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care.  Potential careers related to the environment include policy, engineering, science, education, urban planning and renewal, business, health, justice, economics, and other related fields.

As her undergraduate studies concluded, Edwards also received UA’s Pillar of Excellence award and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Senior, as well as the School of Government and Public Policy Outstanding Senior.

Scholarly Inspiration

Edwards graduated in 2010 from University High School in Tucson, which has a long tradition of students accepting the Flinn Scholarship. Early on, Edwards had planned to attend an out-of-state university and was not considering an Arizona university. But she attended an information session at the University of Arizona to learn more about the Flinn Scholarship that was being talked about by her teachers and counselors.

“I was very impressed by the Scholars at the information session—they were all doing very interesting work and were funny and interesting to talk to,” she says. “This led me to look into the opportunities in Arizona more seriously and ultimately apply for the Flinn Scholarship.”

Edwards says some of her best college experiences were the result of conversation among the Flinn Scholars community. Her work in the engineering lab and her internship at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh came after hearing other Flinn Scholars talk about their experiences. Grameen Bank provides credit to the poorest of the poor, primarily women, in rural Bangladesh.

“Hearing other Scholars talk about their experiences of asking professors to work in labs, planning study abroad trips, and finding interesting internships inspired me to seek out opportunities,” Edwards says.

This summer, Edwards has been taking classes at the ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. She also took a class in the Netherlands and traveled to Portugal and the United Kingdom. Previous Flinn Scholar-sponsored travel included trips to Hungary, Serbia, and Slovakia; as well as Ireland for an internship at a law firm and rural Belize to work on a farm.

Edwards also noted the importance of the annual Flinn Scholars retreat, where all four classes of Flinn Scholars—soon-to-be freshman through seniors—come together for three days each August shortly before the start of the fall semester. The retreat features workshops and travel reports, a tug of war that pits each class against one another, a talent show and other community-building activities.  

“The retreats were really helpful for finding out about the neat things other Scholars are doing,” she says. “Spending time with other Scholars definitely shows you what is possible.”

For more information:

UA honors ‘Pillars’ of research, teaching, engagement

UA students earn 2013 Udall Foundation awards