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For immediate use

April 26, 2004 -- No. 235

Local angle: Charlotte

UNCís Iravani awarded Morris Udall Scholarship

CHAPEL HILL -- Junior Heide M. Iravani of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has won a Morris K. Udall Scholarship for academic excellence and commitment to preserving the environment.

Trustees of the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in Environmental Policy Foundation in Tucson, Ariz., chose 80 winners from among 513 applicants nationwide. The scholarships go to students in fields related to the environment, such as Iravani, and to Native American and Alaska natives in fields related to health care or tribal policy.

Congress established the scholarships in 1992 to honor the late U.S. Rep. Udallís legacy of public service and environmental protection. The awards go to sophomores and juniors who have demonstrated strong academic records and outstanding potential for leadership.

The scholarship will aid Iravaniís quest to become a college professor whose research helps create policies that protect the environment. She also will work for change through international nongovernmental organizations.

"A Ph.D. in geography or developmental studies will allow me to combine my passions for politics and ecology," she said. "I hope to help solve problems associated with environmental sustainability from a social justice perspective."

Iravani, the daughter of Sheryl Iravani of Gaston County and Kazem Iravani of Shiraz, Iran, graduated from Myers Park High School in Charlotte in 2001. The Udall covers tuition, books, room and board up to $5,000 for one year.

Iravaniís award brings the number of Carolina Udall Scholars to eight since the awards began in 1996. Dr. Michael Lambert, an associate professor of African and Afro-American studies, chaired the faculty committee that nominates students for the Udall. He was impressed by Iravaniís research experience.

"She already has had opportunities to work in significant ways on projects that are very advanced for someone at her level," he said. "I could see her having an impact in the field of environmental politics."

An international studies major with a minor in Arabic studies, Iravani has a 3.8 grade-point average on a 4-point scale. She has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nationís highest honor society for college students; the Order of the Golden Fleece, UNCís oldest and highest honorary society; and the Order of the Grail-Valkyries, which recognizes individuals of outstanding character who have made significant contributions to Carolinaís academic climate through excellence in scholarship, dynamic leadership and innovative service.

While in high school, Iravani was featured in Teen People magazine and on the WB television network as one of "Twenty Teens Who Will Change the World." She was the only U.S. high school student to take part in a 200-student delegation to a United Nations Conference held in the Netherlands by GreenPeace.

Since spring 2002, Iravani has been co-chair and a teaching assistant with UNCís Great Decisions Lecture Series, which brings international leaders to speak on campus and conducts related discussions. She founded and directs a Middle East Student Forum and co-chairs an Iranian student organization. She mentors a Latina high school student and tutors a cafeteria worker in English as a second language.

Iravani serves on the Chancellorís Advisory Committee on compliance with labor standards by UNCís apparel licensees. She is a program assistant at UNCís Institute for Latin American Studies and a research assistant at its Carolina Population Center.

At the center, Iravani contributed to a paper soon to be published in a scholarly journal and co-wrote two others with a UNC postdoctoral fellow in geography and a doctoral candidate in public health. She presented one of the papers at an international conference in the Netherlands last December.

Among Iravaniís honors was a Burch Fellowship from Carolina, awarded to five students for independent research abroad. The Burch funded her work last summer with an Oregon nonprofit that works with groups in Third World countries to develop sustainable energy projects. Iravani spent six weeks in Nicaragua developing grant proposals, translating documents and interpreting between Spanish and English, and researching potential energy projects.

"Dealing with members of these communities at the personal level was one of the most inspiring points of my career thus far," she said. "It gave me reassurance that the work and research I am doing now will enable me to make a positive impact."

This spring she won a Frances L. Phillips Travel Scholarship for self-designed and directed international travel experiences, awarded by UNC to students who lack funding for such travel and have demonstrated academic excellence and participated in campus activities.

Besides her activities for the Phillips, Iravani will study Arabic at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and visit Jordan, Israel and Palestine. She aims to research water distribution in the Jordan River Basin. The work will contribute to her senior honors thesis on social and environmental implications of water privatization in developing countries, with a regional component on the Middle East.

"With the worldís population growing rapidly and pollution levels rising, water scarcity and distribution will become even more important in the near future," she said. "I would like to use my research to develop a strong understanding of the institutional frameworks necessary for sustainable and equitable water distribution and build on this research at the graduate level."

Eventually, she said, "being a professor will enable me to instill in my students the values and analytical skills necessary to critique societal practices and seek appropriate solutions to problems that threaten public health, environmental sustainability and democratic sovereignty."

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For more information on Udall Scholarships, visit

Contacts: Dr. Michael Lambert, UNC, (919) 962-3536,
News Services contact: L.J. Toler, (919) 962-8589,