Syracuse University Magazine

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Brianna Carrier

Adventures Far and Wide

Last spring, Brianna Carrier ’12 was on a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Sea Education Association vessel, the SS Corwith Cramer, in the Caribbean studying and documenting changes in water quality when word came that she had been named a 2011 Udall Scholar. Caught up in her research on the floating lab, she had almost forgotten she’d applied for the prestigious scholarship. “I was surprised when I found out I’d been chosen,” says the Niagara Falls native, a geography and policy studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Udall Foundation, an independent nonprofit agency established by Congress, provides federally funded scholarships for college students intending to pursue careers related to the environment and Native American students whose career plans include the areas of tribal policy and health care. A member of the Turtle Clan and Mohawk Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Carrier is one of only 10 Native American and Alaska Native scholars in this year’s Udall Scholarship class—chosen from among 510 candidates at 231 colleges and universities. The award comes with a $5,000 grant, which Carrier can use for housing and tuition. It also puts her in touch with other Udall Scholars via listserv—a valuable way to network with her peers. “I’ve been able to connect with a number of people, which will help me in my career,” she says. “After graduation, I plan to apply to Teach for America, or the National Congress of American Indians to work at the tribal embassy.” 

For Carrier, the scholarship represents another accomplishment in a college career that has featured research trips to the warm climes of the Caribbean and the northern reaches of the North American continent. A summer 2010 internship with the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation was supplemented by a trip to the Canadian Arctic community of Clyde River, helping ignite her interest in sustainability science and the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples. The area is too far north and remote to reach by car; the only way to get to Clyde River is by airplane. “It’s a completely different landscape,” Carrier says. “When I got off the plane, I couldn’t stop looking at the ground. It’s all just glacial till—no dirt at all, just black, red, white, and yellow shiny rocks.”

In her week-long stay in Canada with a researcher who studies support services for Inuit women, Carrier experienced firsthand how warmer temperatures due to climate change are affecting those living close to the Arctic Circle. “The people there had never seen bees before,” she says. “Until a few years ago it had always been too cold for them. But now there are bees and many people—especially the children—are afraid of them.” Carrier notes the residents have many modern amenities, such as computers and satellite TV, but continue to maintain traditional practices, including hunting, fishing, and gathering berries. An expedition by boat to an island to do some low-bush berry picking with a group of local women was an adventure, complete with a seal hunt and a nail-biter of a return trip in the dark.

It was yet another exhilarating, if a bit scary, experience for Carrier, a self-proclaimed homebody who spent little time away from her family before coming to Syracuse University. “Being at SU has been very good for me, with so much opportunity,” she says. “There is a good Native population here, so I can stay connected with my culture.” Her inspiration to pursue a career dedicated to the betterment of her people comes from her grandmother, Nora Carrier, a teacher on the Six Nations reservation who works tirelessly to instruct Haudenosaunee members in the Onondaga language. “She is a huge influence on me and keeps me going to longhouse,” Carrier says. “A lot of what I do is because of her.”  —Paula Meseroll

Photo by Steve Sartori