Schreyer Scholar aims to create cost-effective policies that protect environment

Jeff Rice
November 08, 2017

Editor’s Note: The Schreyer Honors College is featuring Scholars who have been selected to the 2017 Homecoming Student Court.

Aaron Blakney always had an interest in studying — and advocating for — the environment, but he was initially concerned he wouldn’t have enough of a human impact if he went down that particular path.

“I’ve always been really drawn to working with people and helping people,” he said. “I knew I had two passions — protecting the environment and improving people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Blakney, one of three Schreyer Honors Scholars who was selected for the 2017 Penn State Homecoming student court, has been able to combine those passions by finding the intersection between public health and the environment. The senior from Erie, Pennsylvania, is majoring in environmental resource management with minors in environmental soil science, watersheds and water resources, and political science.

“I think there’s a lot of people who really don’t understand the connection between environmental conditions and how it affects human health,” he said. 

Blakney has learned how populations who live next to major roadways have a higher incidence rate of asthma and how lower-income housing rife with lead paint has been tied to IQ deficiencies. As part of an internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this past summer, he completed a risk assessment in communities that had been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “Superfund” sites, which contain significant hazardous material contamination.

His honors thesis is an analysis of potential policy solutions involving climate change, including cap and trade, the institution of a carbon tax, and clean-energy subsidies.

“I want to show that we can protect the environment while also keeping in mind the economic costs that are associated with that, and that we can have it both ways if we put in the correct policies,” he said. “I want to put forth a policy solution that will be both politically feasible to people who are economically concerned about this country and people are concerned about the environment.”

Blakney has gotten to know a variety of people through a number of other activities on campus, including the Environmental Resource Management Society, College Democrats, the independent THON organization Springfield, and the Schreyer Honors College Student Council. As an Ag Advocate for the College of Agricultural Science, he gives tours of campus to accepted students, and he is also a part of the recruitment team for the Honors College.

“It’s trying to show people that Penn State is the home for them,” he said.

When he leaves Penn State, Blakney hopes to help people find ways to ensure their homes are both safe and environmentally friendly, on both large-scale issues or even something as simple as being more informed about everyday household products.

“I think if people understood more about how these types of things affect people, and make smarter choices,” he said, “it would improve human health and protect the environment.”

The Schreyer Honors College, regarded as one of the nation’s top programs of its kind, promotes achieving academic excellence with integrity, building a global perspective, and creating opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars, including Gateway Scholars admitted after their first or second year of enrollment, are a diverse and motivated group of more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth campuses. The college strives to educate men and women who will have an important and ethical influence in the world, to improve educational practice, and to be recognized as a leading force in honors education nationwide.

Last Updated November 08, 2017