Cristian Umana

cristian umana

Lakeville, Conn.

Cristian Umana (pictured, second from right) discovered his passion for environmental science and sustainability when he was just 13 years old. He was enrolled in a summer environmental science program at the Hotchkiss School, learning how to become a steward of natural resources on a local, national and global level. It was then that he decided to continue learning about - and eventually base his career path on - protecting the environment.

Originally from El Salvador, Cristian moved here with his family in 2002 and believes that going to school in the United States was "a gateway to opportunities." At Housatonic Valley Regional High School, he signed up for the most rigorous courses and earned consistently high grades. He participated in Envirothon, America's largest environmental education competition for high school students, where his team ranked third in the state. He also attended the University of Connecticut's Natural Resources Conservation Academy, an innovative program in conservation and land use that prepares the next generation of environmental leaders.

All of his academic and community involvement propelled Cristian toward his future goal of advising and directing projects focused on environmentally friendly urban development. Yet even with a growing list of extracurricular activities and an impressive transcript, he knew the financial burden of college would be difficult for his family and limit his options.

When he started his junior year of high school, Cristian applied to Berkshire Taconic's Margaret Derwin "Blue Sky" Scholarship Fund. The fund awards a scholarship of $105,000 to one student at HVRHS each year: $25,000 annually towards tuition and $5,000 for an overseas community service program.

"As a first generation student in the United States, this scholarship would not make it easier to go to college. Instead, it would make attending an exceptional college a possibility," Cristian wrote in his personal essay.

The committee was impressed by Cristian's eloquence and his passion and commitment to protecting the environment. In 2013, he was selected as the third Derwin Scholar, and soon after learned he had been accepted to Cornell University.

"It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders," he says, "and it's all because I am part of such a caring and giving community."

Today, Cristian is a rising junior at Cornell and deeply involved in promoting "going green" on- and off-campus. This summer, with support from BTCF's Alice and Richard Henriquez Memorial Fund, Cristian is one of four students travelling to Oslo, Norway to study habitat loss and food access. For three weeks, he will teach local residents to build community vegetable gardens and so-called pollinator hotels, which can help boost food security and environmental stability in the area. The program's goal is to encourage everyone in the community to be more closely connected to the natural ecosystem.

Upon his return to Cornell, Cristian will serve as an ambassador for the program. He will present his findings and share his experience with peers through sustainability seminars, with the hope that they will see the benefit of pursuing their interests while immersed in a foreign culture. He will also organize a workshop for students studying landscape architecture and city regional planning, and hopes to collaborate with the bee club to improve bee habitats in the local community. 

With so much ambition, Cristian is well on his way toward a successful career that will have an impact locally and globally.

“My personal success will never be measured  by a paycheck,” he says, “but rather, by how much I can give back to my community by making it a greener, safer place to live.”