Kelsey Murlless is an environmental and sustainability studies major and a politics and international affairs minor from Charlotte, N.C. She spent the first three years of her Wake Forest experience as an interdisciplinary studies student and changed her major to environmental and sustainability studies when the program was created in the Fall of 2020.
Murlless first became interested in environmental science in high school when she took Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science. Yet, she entered college uncertain of what to major in. She decided she wanted to study environmental science during her sophomore year and began the process of creating her own major as Wake Forest did not have an environmental science department at the time.
“The process of creating a major was very long, tedious and difficult,” Murrless said. “A lot of work went into it and I think I really learned perseverance from that experience.”
Murrless decided to switch to the environmental and sustainability studies major upon its creation because it offered more structure than the interdisciplinary studies program. However, she enjoyed the opportunity to explore many different departments at Wake Forest during her time as an interdisciplinary studies major.
“I’ve taken bio[logy], English, history, politics and economics classes … I think I’ve taken a class in almost every department,” Murrless said. “It’s been great because you really get to meet a lot of people and professors that you wouldn’t get to if you were just within one major.”
Two of Murrless’s favorite courses were Environmental Anthropology, taught by Paul Thacker, and International Environmental Policy, taught by Nicolás Cisneros. She appreciated the environmental anthropology course because it gave her a new perspective on environmental issues, and loved how international environmental policy combined her interests in environmental science and politics.
“Kelsey is popular within the environmental program community because of her dedicated commitment to a better future and her humility, compassion and kindness,” Thacker said. “She combines successful training in the natural sciences with a deep understanding of the culturally-constructed worldviews that structure our relationship to the environment.”
Murrless studied in Copenhagen, Denmark in the fall of her junior year, and called her time abroad the best part of her college experience. Murrless studied climate change, glaciers, renewable energy and waste management with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS).
“The program was a very hands on learning experience, which I loved,” Murrless said.
Murrless has held multiple environmental internships during her time at Wake Forest. In her sophomore year, she served as the inaugural Athletics, Waste Reduction and Diversion Assistant for the Office of Sustainability on campus. She worked as an intermediary between the Office of Sustainability and athletic programs, and promoted sustainable initiatives within athletics. Among other achievements, Murrless helped host an entirely carbon-neutral baseball game.
Murrless also interned with Catawba Lands Conservancy doing stewardship work; there, she spent time out in the field monitoring and reporting on the conditions of protected land in and around Charlotte.
During her senior year, Murrless joined the Piedmont Environmental Alliance (PEA) as a Community Outreach and Marketing Intern.
“Every year PEA puts on a big Earth Day fair, so I have been doing a lot of graphic design and marketing for the fair,” Murrless explained. “It’s been a lot of outreach with the local community and trying to bolster [PEA’s] social media presence in order to increase attendance at the fair.”
Throughout the past four years, Murrless has been involved with the Delta Zeta (DZ) sorority and held multiple leadership roles within the organization. She served as DZ’s Greeks Go Green representative, in which she fostered communication between the sorority and the Office of Sustainability and encouraged her fellow sisters to adopt sustainable practices. She also spent a semester as DZ’s intramural sports chair.
Murrless enjoyed getting involved with on-campus events, traditions and volunteer opportunities. She has participated in Hit the Bricks, served on a Wake N’ Shake committee and volunteered with Campus Kitchen and Campus Garden.
After graduation, Murrless will be interning with Fulfill, a nonprofit centered around sustainable entrepreneurship, where she will be developing sustainability curriculum. Murrless plans to begin a career in environmental policy after completing her internship.