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Applications now open for the 2023 Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship 

Students at sixty-six high schools eligible for Riverkeeper’s environmental award

The 2022 Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholar was Ms. Ashley Park, of Wyckoff, a graduate of Bergen County Tech, located in Teterboro

Hackensack Riverkeeper, the citizen-steward of the Hackensack River Watershed, is pleased to announce it is accepting applications for the 2023 Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship. Now in its twentieth-third year, the program honors the memory of two founding Trustees who passed away while actively serving on the organization’s board.

Established in 2001 as the Hackensack Riverkeeper Environmental Scholarship, it was renamed in 2003 to honor trustee Ronald Vellekamp, who died the previous year. In addition to serving on the Riverkeeper board, Mr. Vellekamp was a science teacher, Scout leader and ranger at Palisades Interstate Park. From 2003 through 2019, the Ron Vellekamp Environmental Scholarship awarded a total of $17,000 to some of the most talented and environmentally literate high school graduates in Bergen, Hudson and Rockland counties.

Margaret Utzinger passed away in August 2018, after devoting over a quarter-century to the Hackensack River, first as co-founder of the Hackensack River Coalition in the late 1980s, then as founding Trustee of Hackensack Riverkeeper in 1997. During her twenty-one years on the board, she served two terms as president and remained an active, engaged trustee throughout. Her name was added to the award in 2020.

“They say you never forget the people who got you to where you are today – and they’re right,” said founder and Executive Director Captain Bill Sheehan. “Would there be a Hackensack Riverkeeper had Ron and Margaret not stepped up? Probably, but probably not as successful and effective as they helped make it. I know they’d be proud of the work we continue to do and the young scholars we inspire and support.”

The 2022 Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholar was Ms. Ashley Park, of Wyckoff, a graduate of Bergen County Tech, located in Teterboro. Without question, hers was the most advocacy-driven application ever considered by the review panel. Ms. Park is now a member of Princeton University’s Class of 2026.

This year Riverkeeper looks forward to supporting another college-bound senior who excels academically and who shows a clear, strong commitment to environmental protection.

Teachers and guidance counselors at sixty-six high schools in Bergen, Hudson and Rockland Counties are eligible to nominate a student for the award. Copies of the scholarship criteria have been sent to the guidance departments at each. Applications must be postmarked no later than Earth Day, April 22, 2023.

The most important requirement is that all applicants live and/or attend school within the 210-square mile Hackensack River Watershed. A list of watershed municipalities is available at www.hackensackriverkeeper.org. As regards students residing in dual-watershed communities like Paramus or West New York, or Ramapo, NY, nominators need to ensure a student’s eligibility before submitting an application on their behalf.

The review panel, led by Sheehan and Program Director Captain Hugh Carola, will consider each application and weigh the students’ academic achievements, environmental extracurricular activities and future plans. The winner of the $1000 unrestricted award will be announced by June 1, 2023.

Additional information and full scholarship application criteria are available on Hackensack Riverkeeper’s website, by emailing Carola at Hugh@hackensackriverkeeper.org, or by calling him directly at 201-968-0808, extension 2.

The Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship is supported by members of the Utzinger and Vellekamp families and by Hackensack Riverkeeper’s World Series of Birding team. Additional donations to support the scholarship fund are greatly appreciated. All donations are tax deductible.

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