Monica Dix Receives 2020 Nexial Prize

June 9, 2020

Hillary Hempstead

Monica Dix
Geology and politics double major Monica Dix ’20.
Photo credit: Kate Pippenger

Monica Dix ’20, a geology and politics double major from Shorewood, Wisconsin, has been awarded the 2020 Nexial Prize.

Dix’s passion for both earth science and policy sparked her interest in the Nexial Prize, which emphasizes the value of a broad-based liberal arts education. “To me, advocating for earth science issues and environmental issues in public spaces is critical to make decisions that are founded in science,” Dix says. “Often scientists are doing the work and getting the data needed to direct management, but I want to continue developing my skills as someone who can operate between communities, science, and policies.”

Now in its fourth year, the Nexial Prize was created by an alumnus to recognize the contribution Oberlin’s liberal arts education made to his successful career as a scientist and manager, as well as his growth intellectually and culturally. 

The 2020 graduate will use the Nexial Prize to fund her studies, in which she plans to explore the relationship between policy and waterways, particularly river systems. “When I studied abroad in New Zealand, I learned about geohazards, a subfield of geology that explores the relationship between disaster science, management, and mitigation,” explains Dix.

“I'm hoping to use this financial support to either enroll in a master’s program that focuses on disaster risk and resilience, or spend time learning about international best practices in disaster mitigation. I'm very motivated by the series of catastrophic floods in my home region of the Midwest, and want to use a variety of skills to integrate scientific and political solutions.”

Dix explains that her liberal arts education allowed her to understand that she could be passionate about fields that are not traditionally linked. “I especially found myself in former Visiting Assistant Professor Chase Hobbs-Morgan's seminar, Action in the Anthropocene, which generated amazing discussions between the most interdisciplinary topic and group of people I could imagine. It made me realize that combining political theory to act on earth science issues was exactly where I saw myself in the future. I also want to deeply acknowledge my dedicated advisors, Professor of Politics Eve Sandberg and Associate Professor of Geology Amanda Schmidt, who tirelessly encouraged me to pursue opportunities in fields outside their own because they understood my interests. It was truly wonderful mentoring.”

During her time at Oberlin, Dix was involved both at the college and in the community. She was president of Friendship Circle and co-chair of the Oberlin College Democrats, a Sophomore Opportunities & Academic Resources (SOAR) leader for geology, a Peer Advising Leader (PAL) for three years, a geology major representative, a senior fellow for the Office of Admissions, and a writer for the Synapse.

Dix also served the city of Oberlin as a commissioner for both the Recreation Commission and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Commission. “One of my favorite experiences as a student was serving in the local government,” says Dix. “It reminded me of the importance of local government and also student representation in Oberlin's decision-making spaces.”

Until Dix is able to pursue her studies abroad, she will work as an inspector and enforcement officer in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 water enforcement division. She says she’s particularly excited to be working with a division that has a mandate to protect the health of people and waterways across the Great Lakes region. She’s also looking forward to being on the team that pilots safe drinking water inspections in the wake of environmental justice crises in cities such as Flint, Michigan. 

“I would like to emphasize my appreciation for all the encouraging professors and classmates who embrace interdisciplinary environments at Oberlin and continue to push the envelope in developing ways to change the world,” says Dix. “I am so enormously grateful for the support of academic and professional staff, especially Director of Fellowships and Awards Nick Petzak for his dedication to helping me articulate my goals.”

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