After her final graduation practice concluded and while most of her fellow Clarkstown High School South seniors were picking up their caps, gowns and honors cords, Ms. Casey Dunbar received Hackensack Riverkeeper’s 2019 Ron Vellekamp Environmental Scholarship. At an informal ceremony attended by the honoree, her mother and Guidance Department Chairperson Carolyn McKenna (who nominated her), Captains Bill Sheehan and Hugh Carola presented Casey with the $1000 award.
Now in its nineteenth year, the program named in honor of the late Ridgefield, NJ science teacher and founding Riverkeeper Trustee, helps support college-bound graduates who excel academically and who have a strong commitment environmental protection. Out of nine applications received through Earth Day, April 22, 2019 Dunbar’s stood out among the rest.
“We always have a tough time choosing a winner but we had an even tougher time this year,” explained Carola, the organization’s Program Director who oversees the scholarship program. “Once we narrowed it down to three finalists it got even more difficult but Casey’s application stood out over the others.”
A resident of West Nyack, NY, Dunbar will be attending Roger Williams University in Rhode Island this coming September where she has already chosen to major in Marine Biology in the RWU Honors Program.
Over the past two years she participated in A Day in the Life of the Hudson River – an intensive program sponsored by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) with assistance from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Ms. Dunbar also participated in fish studies – including live collection, monitoring and aquaria maintenance – at the 147-acre Marshlands Conservancy in Rye, NY.
In addition to extracurricular research, she also volunteered with United Way of Rockland County for the organization’s Repurposing Shoe Drive. During the four month-long drive, she collected over 3,000 pairs of gently used shoes which were shipped to Third World countries as part of global health and sustainability initiatives.
During their conversation, Captain Bill Sheehan offered Casey some sage advice regarding her post-university career. “Something that troubles many of us in the environmental community is that far too often, talented scholars like you graduate with massive debt along with a well-earned degree,” he explained. “As a result many wind up working for fossil fuel companies and other polluters as ‘Environmental Compliance specialists’ in order to pay down that debt. Please do all you can to avoid that because we need you, your talent and dedication on the ‘A Team’.”
Casey Dunbar is the third Rockland County recipient of the Ron Vellekamp Environmental Scholarship, which is open to all graduating senior who reside or attend high school within the 215 square mile Hackensack River Watershed. In addition to a large swath of southeast Rockland County, NY, the watershed also includes most of eastern Bergen and western Hudson Counties in New Jersey.
For the scholarship’s upcoming 20th Anniversary year, Hackensack Riverkeeper recently announced its renaming as the Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship – honoring another Founding Trustee, Margaret Utzinger, who passed away in 2018.