Cameron Munley – Environment & Sustainability


Emily Beauchamp, Senior Writer

Cameron Munley grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., so when it came time to pick a university, she was determined that it would not be Wake Forest. After touring around 15 schools, however, her mind was changed and she would soon be an incoming freshman of Wake Forest’s class of 2021.

“I knew there was something about it — the size, the academics, the resources and this weird gut feeling that I had when I went on the campus I that wanted to be nowhere else,” Munley said. 

When Munley arrived, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to major in, but after taking a couple of biology classes, she realized she was in love with ecology. During her second semester freshman year, she was already taking a 300 level course in the department and ultimately decided that Biology with a minor in environmental science would be the best fit for her.

That same year, members of the biology department came to Munley, as they already saw her passion for the environment and pitched her idea they were developing: the environment and sustainability studies major. Munley decided then that this was the course of study for her, and she will be in the first class to graduate with that major.

Munley’s Wake Forest career has been defined mostly by her academics.

“It’s what I’m most passionate about,” she said.

She loves exploring new ideas and ended up taking an archeology class during her freshman year. She fell in love with anthropology soon after and ultimately decided on a double major in both environment and sustainability studies and anthropology, with a minor in biology.

She also conducted a significant amount of research during her four years. Munley began her journey as a member of Dave Anderson’s lab in the biology department and went to the Galapagos to study the sleep patterns of the Nazca booby. She then studied with Eric Jones, from the anthropology department during the summer. During this field school experience, she conducted research on lithics and indigenous tribes that lived in the Yadkin Valley, ultimately presenting her findings on Undergraduate Research Day during her sophomore year. Finally, she worked with Miles Silman in the biology department for several years.

One of Munley’s favorite memories from her time at Wake Forest was during a five-week trip to Peru with Silman.

“I woke up really early one morning to go see a sunrise,” Munley said. “We took this two-hour bus ride down the bumpy road in the middle of the Andes Mountains. We ended up getting to the peak which was around 14,000 feet; it was about 20 degrees outside and windy. But gradually, the sun started rising and all of a sudden the mountains were illuminated. We were above the clouds and it was the most amazing possible sight.”

As Munley watched the sunrise, she was struck by the beauty of nature and how incredible it was. It reinforced her desire to study nature irrevocably.

“The best way to learn about nature is to go and see something like that,” Munley said. That is probably one of the most vivid memories that I will ever have and hold with me.”

While academics have shaped Munley’s four years, she has many other interests as well. One such interest defined her college career: horseback riding. She has been riding off-and-on since she was six years old. When she came to college, she ended up joining the equestrian team. Munley feels that this has been her most valuable and impactful activity.

“I love animals, and horseback riding was probably the first major activity in my life that showed me the importance of animals and how we as humans can make important bonds with them,” she said.

Munley would say that her experiences outside of the classroom are some of the most impactful. She has embodied this idea by making every effort to study abroad, whether that be  summer in Peru, a semester in Venice Italy, or a week in Belize. Additionally, Munley values the little moments in her life that give her a break from academics. One such moment that she looks forward to every week is spending Saturdays with her best friend, never having a plan and letting spontaneity guide their day.

Next year, Munley will be combining her many passions by pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental archeology at the University of Florida. Then, she hopes to go into academia full time to continue researching and teaching students about what she loves.