Growing up in a hollow in Wyoming County, Jordan Lovejoy would sit under an apple tree and read. There wasn’t much else for her to do.
She learned to love reading. It opened her mind and helped her to understand. Lovejoy also gained an appreciation for her state.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends nearby that I could go outside and play with,” she says now. “I didn’t have a place of community I could go to unless my parents wanted to drive me 10 minutes down the road.
“I had books,” she said.
Those roots of reading grew only deeper since she arrived at West Virginia University. Now, the senior triple major in English, Spanish and women’s and gender studies from small Pineville, W.Va., is the University’s third-ever Udall Scholar.
She is the first student since 2001 to receive the prestigious scholarship. Each year since 1996, the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation selects 50 Udall Scholars from a pool of college sophomores and juniors committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care.
“Jordan is committed to protecting the natural beauty of her home state, West Virginia, as well as the health of its people,” said Keith Garbutt, dean of the Honors College. “Only 50 students in the country win, so it’s a huge honor for Jordan and most certainly well-deserved. Being a Udall Scholar is going to open doors for her, even years from now and in ways she might not expect.”
WVU all-time Udall Scholars
1997 Sheryl D. Young
2001 Christina K. Lettieri
2014 Jordan Lovejoy
Lovejoy has been motivated to study the environment due to some infamous moments from her past. For example, she has lost two friends to mining disasters.
The worst part to her was that she never really knew how the coal-mining industry had negatively affected West Virginia. In the heart of coal-mining country, those negative stories weren’t readily available, she said.
“I just knew that it was very important to the area and the people. It was necessary and indicated as our livelihood,” she said. “I didn’t learn that there were two sides to the story until my senior year of high school.”
As a senior, she volunteered to complete a tree restoration project for a coal mining company. She and her friends planted a few thousand American chestnut trees and even spoke on the local news about how beneficial it would be to the community. A few years later, when Lovejoy returned to the site expecting to see a young, thriving forest, she was surprised when every tree was dead.
“The only signs that we had been there were the pink tags that we had marked the trees with. It was devastating to me,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. That was my moment of realization.”
At WVU, she’s been able to see even more clearly about the issues that affected her friends and family as a child. As a sophomore at WVU, Lovejoy took an Appalachian fiction class, which opened her eyes to the importance of the environment on West Virginia and Appalachia.
“It really set in stone for me after that class. It made those connections real,” she said. “I didn’t realize how important home was to me until I came here and started to study it.”
Since that class, she has tried to make every project or paper about Appalachian environmentalism. In her Shakespeare class, she connected the exploitation of the land from “King Lear” to that of Appalachia. In environmental biology, she studied ecological deconstruction from mountaintop removal. In writing theory and practice, she proposed to study gender implications in competing slogans in the “war on coal.”
As a McNair scholar, she is also working on a project where she’s looking at the impact coal mining and mountaintop removal has had on humans and non-humans in the environment.
All of this should lead her onto the path of becoming a literature teacher, specializing in Appalachian literature and the environment.
She has been a vocal member of the campus community since coming to WVU, and even organized the first “I love mountains” protest in Morgantown earlier this year.
That would come as a surprise considering she was forced to hide her dialect while growing up, because peers made fun of her for it. Now, her voice is stronger than ever due to her education.
She really has found a home at WVU despite being hesitant to come to the University in the first place.
“I was really set on leaving the state there was this idea in my hometown that if you wanted to succeed you can’t do it in West Virginia,” she said. “That couldn’t be any further from the truth.”
In fact, she has a favorite tree on campus right in front of E. Moore Hall. While she doesn’t sit under that tree like she did in her apple orchard when she was growing up, Lovejoy still finds places to sit, read and learn – her favorite being the Milano Reading Room in the downtown library.
“It was really significant to me to look back and see that I grew up reading. Now, it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.
By Tony Dobies
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