Four seniors named winners of the 2023 Babcock Prize in Environmental Science

May 10, 2023

Congratulations to Hellas Lee, Katia Renault, Kira Wiesinger, and Sarah Zhang on receiving the 2023 Kenneth L. Babcock Prize in Environmental Science.

Established in 1995 in memory of Kenneth L. Babcock by a group of donors including his late widow, Claude Babcock (BA ’52 English, MSW ’82), and brother Sherman Babcock (BS ’41 Soil Science), the prize recognizes exceptional academic achievement by graduating seniors in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM).

Hellas Lee, Environmental Science 

Lee Hellas graduation photo

Hellas Lee credits her experience at UC Berkeley with supporting her continued growth as a strong environmental leader, sustainability professional, and figure skater.

Lee’s first research opportunity—evaluating various climate adaptation and sustainability plans in California—through the Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program opened the door to several cross-disciplinary opportunities to conduct research with Geography professor John Chiang, the City University of Hong Kong, and the Geospatial Innovation Facility.

Outside of research, Lee worked with BEACN, a sustainability-focused student consulting club, on projects that ranged from net-zero carbon roadmaps to climate resilience policies in the public and private sectors. She also competed with the Cal Figure Skating team and served as team captain over this past season.

After graduation, Lee plans to continue her studies at Columbia University, focusing on climate adaptation and resilience strategies through the MA in Climate and Society program.

Katia Renault, Molecular Environmental Biology

Katia Renault graduation photo

Katia Renault explored “the full spectrum of life sciences” by immersing herself in computational biology, data sciences, ecology, and comparative virology.

As an undergraduate, Renault balanced the responsibilities of an undergraduate researcher in the labs of Integrative Biology professor Mike Boots, and School of Public Health professors Jay Graham and Justin Remais with coursework, exams, and leading the “Introduction to One Health” DeCal.

She completed her senior thesis in the lab of Integrative Biology professor Peter Sudmant, where she conducted experiments and field research to understand the exceptional longevity of wild bats and how that could help understand the evolution of mammalian aging.

After graduation, Renault will begin her PhD at Harvard University where she looks forward to continuing to highlight the interconnectedness of environmental, human, and animal biology.

Kira Wiesinger, Molecular Environmental Biology

Kira Wiesinger graduation photo

Kira Wiesinger is “forever grateful” for the opportunities to participate in research, design conservation solutions, and advocate for environmental justice she had as a Rausser College undergraduate.

Admitted as an environmental science major, Wiesinger added a minor in data science after her Berkeley Connect freshman seminar and switched to molecular environmental biology after carrying out an independent field biology project in Moorea. Those opportunities drove her to apply for the Fung Fellowship, where she was selected for the program’s Conservation + Innovation Track

As a Fung Fellow, Wiesinger partnered with Heartland Rewilding, an organization restoring wild nature and promoting coexistence between wildlife and communities in the Midwest. After graduation, she hopes to work for a conservation organization before later pursuing graduate studies in environmental biology or a related discipline.

Sarah Zhang, Environmental Science

Sarah Zhang graduation photo

Sarah Zhang’s research and coursework in environmental science and experience with Cal Figure Skating were integral to her undergraduate experience and personal growth.

As a participant in the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program at MIT, Zhang analyzed thousands of GPS observations to investigate snow depth on Arctic sea ice. The project served as the foundation of her senior thesis and the subject of her presentation during the fall 2022 Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

She has also conducted research in the labs of multiple Rausser College faculty, including Kate O’Neill, Lara Kueppers, Carl Boettiger, and Manuela Girotto while maintaining three years of leadership experience with the figure skating team.

After graduating, Zhang plans to continue her studies of the polar cryosphere and oceanography through an institute fellowship-funded PhD in Environmental Science and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.