An environmental justice scholarship has been established in memory of Dr. Patricia (“Trish”) Sellers, an aquatic ecologist and professor in the UNCP Department of Biology from 2005-2017. Trish mentored undergraduate researchers and taught several courses, including core courses she created for the Environmental Science curriculum, while working as Executive Director of the Lumber River Conservancy, a nonprofit organization committed to safeguarding the water quality and natural resources of the Lumber River watershed.
A native of Canada, Trish focused her research efforts in Ontario. She joined a scientific research team that, for many years, documented mercury levels in the Wabigoon-English River system. Contamination began when a chlor-alkali plant discharged several tons of mercury into the river during the 1960s. Trish worked closely with the indigenous Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations people, who have suffered from mercury poisoning for decades, becoming their scientific advisor in 2004. Months before her passing in 2017, the Canadian government announced that it would earmark $85 million to clean up mercury contamination in the river. This funding resulted directly from the efforts of Trish and her research team. The struggle of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations people for environmental justice continues to this day.
Trish touched many lives and left an indelible mark on the Department of Biology. This memorial scholarship is intended to recognize and financially support exceptional undergraduate student research and proposals for environmental research tied to environmental justice. This research may serve to discover, highlight, or mitigate environmental conditions that either harm or threaten human communities. Alternatively, this research may provide the scientific evidence that empowers communities to seek or to secure solutions to environmental threats stemming from social inequalities.