Next Stop: Oxford University

Emma O’Donnell, 23, who grew up in Pembroke, Bermuda and participated in years of educational programs at BIOS, will spend the next two years at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Photo by Ella Claire Morgan.

BIOS Ocean Academy alumna Emma O’Donnell will take her interest in environmental sustainability a step further this fall at the University of Oxford in England with a Rhodes Scholarship, focusing her graduate work on studies of sustainability, enterprise, and the environment. 

“I wanted to broaden my understanding of sustainability beyond the ecological and biological implications of climate change that I studied during my undergraduate years,” O’Donnell said of her two-year course of study, which will begin in October 2022. O’Donnell completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University in 2021.

The Oxford program addresses two pervasive and unmet challenges: making the transition to a zero-carbon and environmentally sustainable economic model, while simultaneously enabling sustainable development for everyone, poor and rich alike.

“I was attracted to the fact that the program was very solutions-oriented with its focus on harnessing enterprise to accelerate the transition to an environmentally-sustainable economic model,” she said.

O’Donnell, 23, who grew up in Pembroke, Bermuda, completed courses through BIOS’s Ocean Academy, having started at age 13 with the Institute’s former Waterstart program in 2012 (now run independently by local educator JP Skinner). Inspired by a lifelong desire to become a scientist, O’Donnell spent three years with Waterstart, then enrolled in the BIOS Marine Science Internship, a two-week immersive research-based program before continuing on to the next levels.

For three years beginning in 2016, O’Donnell interned and conducted research at BIOS with research specialist Tim Noyes and BIOS zooplankton ecologist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial.

In 2016 and 2017 she worked with BIOS research specialist Tim Noyes, first as a volunteer intern, then as a Bermuda Program intern in a full-time summer internship. In 2018, after her first year at Princeton University, O’Donnell returned to BIOS as a Princeton Environmental Institute intern, and she came back in 2020 as a Bermuda Program intern to begin her thesis research under the guidance of Noyes and BIOS zooplankton ecologist Leocadio Blanco-Bercial.

She said that as a Rhodes Scholar, she is looking forward to expanding her world view. “I am most excited about the chance to join a community of driven and passionate people with such varied backgrounds and perspectives, to make long-lasting connections, and to learn from each other,” she said.

The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest (first awarded in 1902) and perhaps most prestigious international scholarship program, enabling outstanding young people from around the world to study at Oxford, according to its website description. It covers tuition and provides students with a stipend for living expenses and accommodation.

After Oxford, she hopes to continue her focus on working to protect Bermuda’s natural environment. “I plan to advocate for and to develop solutions for sustainability and climate change mitigation and resilience in the private sector,” she said.

In her Rhodes Scholar application, O’Donnell wrote: “Long-term, I hope to move into the field of corporate sustainability or sustainable investing because I believe there is enormous potential for the private sector to drive important and necessary environmental change.” 

Currently, O’Donnell lives in London, where since September 2021 she has been working as a reinsurance climate change strategy trainee with Aon, a global professional services firm that provides a wide range of risk, reinsurance, retirement, and health solutions.