DURHAM, N.C.— Seven 2022 Master of Environmental Management (MEM) graduates of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment share this year’s Virlis L. Fischer Memorial Award for academic achievement.

All seven of the students graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

“Maintaining a perfect academic record is a remarkable achievement. Having seven students do it, despite the disruptions caused by COVID and while many of them also were working fulltime as environmental professionals, speaks to the exemplary drive and discipline that characterizes this year’s graduating class,” said Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School.

This year’s Fischer Award recipients are:

Benjamin “Jamie” Christensen

Christensen earned his MEM in environmental leadership through the Duke Environmental Leadership (DEL) program for working professionals.

He is president of Outdoor Access Inc. in Richmond, Va., a sustainable land management start-up that helps landowners maximize the value of their property by offering hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts exclusive access to their land for recreation on a short-term basis.

His Master’s Project was “Getting to Liquidity: Determining Hunting Lease Prices Using Predictive Analytics.”

Megan Daylynn Cook

Cook earned her MEM in environmental leadership through the DEL program for working professionals.

She is director of education and outreach at Ocean Exploration Trust in Friday Harbor, Wash., where her duties include managing at-sea and onshore education programs and partnerships and designing and implementing STEM education and workforce development programs.

Her Master’s Project was “Knowledge and Knowledge Gaps in Deep-Sea Mining Regional Environmental Management Planning.”

Lydie Vanessa Costes

Costes earned her MEM in ecosystem science and conservation and a Certificate in Geospatial Analysis.

She was founding director of the Duke Society for Ecological Restoration’s Student Association; worked as a graduate teaching assistant and spatial analysis research aid; helped maintain Duke Gardens’ native plant collection; and served as orientation coordinator for the Nicholas School Student Council and secretary for the Duke Chapter of the Society of American Foresters.

Her Master’s Project was “Reintroduction of Baptisia aberrans in a Piedmont Diabase Glade.”

Michael Gaffney

Gaffney earned his MEM in ecosystem science and conservation.

His Master’s Project was “Climate and Conservation: Site Prioritization in the North Carolina Coastal Plains.”  As part of his research for that project, he interned with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust as a Carbon, Climate and Conservation Fellow and used GIS to assist the land trust in identifying climate resiliency hotspots and land conservation priorities in two coastal watersheds: the Cashie River in Bertie County, and the Waccamaw River in Brunswick and Columbus counties.

Claire Sui Huang

Huang earned her MEM in coastal environmental management.

She was a Nicholas Scholar, a Nicholas School Alumni Council Fellow, and the recipient of a 2021-22 Bass Connections Student Research Award. She also served as outreach coordinator for the Ocean Policy Working Group, a student consultant at the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and as the Beaufort/Duke Marine Lab representative to The Coastal Society.

Her Master’s Project was “Recovery of River Herring Spawning Habitat Use in Response to a Large-Scale Dam Removal.”

Samuel Somerville

Somerville earned his MEM in environmental leadership through the DEL program for working professionals.

He is an operations wildlife compliance specialist at Avangrid Renewables in Portland Ore., which owns and operates renewable energy facilities with 7.1 gigawatts of electricity capacity, primarily through wind power, in 22 states across the United States. 

His Master’s Project was “A Trait-Based Analysis of Vulnerability of Bats from Climate Change in the United States.”

Rachel Lee Toker

Toker earned her MEM in environmental leadership through the DEL program for working professionals.

She is president of Urban Ecosystems Restorations, a nonprofit urban last trust in the Washington, D.C. area, and senior attorney at DLI Piper in Bethesda, Md. She works at the intersections of urban sustainability, real estate development, economic development, green building design, social equity and environmental restoration to find solutions to the environmental problems facing urban areas today.

Her Master’s Project was “Health Forests: Scaling Up Urban Forests as a Health Response.”