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Emily McGlynn '09 wins Truman Scholarship on her way to clearing the air in Pennsylvania

Emily McGlynn '09, an environmental activist who has helped persuade the city of Philadelphia to begin replacing its gas-guzzling garbage trucks with cleaner, quieter natural-gas-powered vehicles, has been awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

The scholarship recognizes college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in public service. It provides up to $30,000 to fund graduate study, among other benefits. McGlynn, a biology major with a concentration in environmental studies and an economics minor, plans to pursue a dual degree in law and environmental sciences or biology.

Just 21 years old, McGlynn has already had a significant effect on her environment. As a leader of the Bryn Mawr Greens, she introduced a resolution at the annual plenary meeting of the Self Government Association to petition the College to use more energy from renewable sources. One result of this will appear soon on Cambrian Row: a windmill that will generate electricity for the Multicultural Center.

McGlynn also introduced a monthlong "energy diet," a competition that challenged dormitories to reduce their energy consumption. The first energy diet resulted in an average decrease of nine percent, with the leading dorm cutting its consumption by more than 26 percent. The second energy diet, held this year, opened the competition to all dorms at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore.

But the impact of McGlynn's environmental advocacy has reached significantly beyond the borders of Bryn Mawr. In partnership with Energy Vision, a nonprofit founded by longtime environmental activist Joanna Underwood '62, she has begun a process that will have a significant positive effect on the air quality in Philadelphia and perhaps around the country.

"I was first introduced to Joanna Underwood's work when she gave a talk here during my freshman year," McGlynn says. "I was excited by her commitment and her practical approach to achieving change, and later I got in touch with her to see if I could work with her."

McGlynn spent that summer working for an environmental consulting firm.

"That was fun because I got to spend a lot of time outdoors doing endangered-species surveys and soil surveys, and I enjoyed writing up the reports. But helping corporations comply with the law didn't get me close to any kind of decision-making position."

During her sophomore year, she began working with Underwood's organization and eventually did an independent study supervised by Underwood. Her project, which she continued the following summer as an intern funded by an Alumnae Regional Scholarship, involved extensive research on the health effects of air pollution in Philadelphia, the emissions from the city's 351-truck garbage fleet, the potential benefits of a switch to natural-gas-powered trucks, and strategies for bringing such a change about.

After creating a pamphlet that summarized her research findings for Philadelphia decisionmakers, McGlynn accompanied Underwood to Harrisburg to discuss their initiative with Secretary Kathleen McGinty of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Later, Energy Vision organized a demonstration of natural-gas-powered trucks to an enthusiastic group of Philadelphia officials, and the city has now applied for DEP grants to begin the gradual conversion of its fleet over the next decade. 

This semester, McGlynn and Underwood are supervising a Praxis course in which four Bryn Mawr students are undertaking a similar effort in Lower Merion Township. McGlynn hopes to spread the project further by creating an environmental-advocacy manual for students at colleges and universities across the country.

"It includes suggestions about how to research a local refuse fleet and how to communicate with policy-makers. We hope our efforts at Bryn Mawr can be a model for successful efforts in other cities," she says.

"It's important to practice environmental activism in a very guided, directed way. You can have an idea about what would be good to do, but in order to get legislators to act on it, you need to collect solid evidence, present options clearly and lay it out for them."

As a full-time intern working under Patricia Grim and Joanne Denworth, Governor Ed Rendell's environmental-policy analysts, McGlynn is getting plenty of practical experience in that field as their office tries to persuade a Republican legislature to adopt the Democratic governor's initiatives.

"This has been a really valuable internship," she says. "The women I work for make sure that we get a very well-rounded experience. We go to all kinds of hearings, listen to budget testimony, analyze bills and do public outreach. I feel like I've been right in the middle of everything that's going on."

The experience has helped her decide that she's more inclined to seek elective office than to serve in a policy office.

"When you hold an appointed position, you're obligated to limit yourself to the policy positions of the elected official who appointed you. I want to be out there drafting legislation and introducing new initiatives."

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Posted 3/27/2008 by Claudia Ginanni