senior spotlight: amanda morris ’24

My experiences as an environmental studies major at Wesleyan have broadened my horizons and opened me to an expansive range of new perspectives. I have had many wonderful opportunities throughout my time at Wesleyan and am grateful to have had the support of a number of faculty mentors. I have especially appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of my environmental studies major and have found that the coursework combines well with my government major and international relations concentration. 

I have been interested in the environment for a long time, and always knew that it was a subject I wanted to study in college. I grew up along the Massachusetts coastline, and spent time in high school volunteering with the New England Aquarium’s Live Blue Ambassador program. This program allowed me to engage in environmental work on the Boston Harbor Islands and across a variety of aquatic ecosystems in Massachusetts. When coming to Wesleyan, I felt that the environmental studies program would be a good fit with my academic interests, as many of the classes complimented the social science approach of the government major. 

By combining environmental studies with an international relations concentration, I was able to take classes that painted a global picture of climate responses, highlighting policies and climate change mitigation strategies of different countries and communities. Looking at places that are addressing climate change more effectively than the United States has made me more optimistic about future environmental possibilities. 

During the fall semester of my junior year, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, through the Danish Institute of Study Abroad (DIS). The city of Copenhagen is taking large strides to handle climate change. While studying there, I was struck by the level of environmental awareness, and the desire of the general public to work collaboratively toward a more sustainable future. Copenhagen has over 500 km of bicycle paths, an extensive public transportation network, electric ferries in the harbor, prioritizes recycling and repurposing materials, and is on track to be the first carbon-neutral city, possibly within this decade. I would strongly recommend studying in Copenhagen to anyone who has an interest in climate solutions, as it serves as a great case-study of a modern city working to become more environmentally conscious. Although there is still progress to be made even in Copenhagen, studying in Denmark opened my eyes to a different way of life that is more harmonious with the environment. 

Through my study abroad program, I was also able to travel to Seville, Spain, and learn about the emerging environmental policies there. With my classmates, I biked more than 20 km along one of Europe’s most quickly developing bike systems, learned about the practices of an organic and sustainable farm, and went to the PS10 Solar Power Plant. Rather than working like a traditional solar field, the PS10 Solar Power Plant uses 624 mirrors called heliostats to reflect beams of light to hit a central tower. Within this tower there is a water-based solution. When it is struck with light from the heliostats, heat causes the water to evaporate, forming steam, which powers a turbine. This is how the plant generates electricity. The scale of the solar field was incredible. I was able to see a similar solar project in the Mojave Desert the previous summer, at the Ivanpah Solar Facility. Seeing these projects in person was unforgettable, and they made me realize the true future potential of renewable energy. 

During my time abroad I also took a trip to the Port of Espjerg, in western Denmark. During this class trip I was able to see where the manufactured components of Orsted windmills, one of the largest windmill companies in the world, are shipped globally. The following semester, I took a course at Wesleyan called Renewable Energy and Negative Emission Technologies with Professor Rosemary Ostfeld, and we went to the construction site of an offshore wind farm in New Britain, Connecticut, in collaboration with Orsted. It was interesting to think that the components I had seen in the Port of Espjerg may have made the journey all the way to Connecticut, where up to 100 turbines will be built. 

Last spring, I had the opportunity to work on a legislative advocacy campaign with the Sierra Club. The project was done in collaboration with Lydia Brutvan ‘25. Professor Ostfeld connected us with Samantha Dynowski, the director of the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club. I had the opportunity to meet with her weekly, as well as attend Sierra Club legislative meetings. The main focus of our project was to promote Connecticut’s Environmental Justice Bill, which regulates the construction of polluting facilities in underprivileged Connecticut communities. These communities often already face worse health outcomes, partially due to existing facilities. I was able to create content for the Sierra Club’s website and newsletter, in the form of an action alert, and created posters to spread awareness across Wesleyan’s campus.  The also campaign took me to the Connecticut state capitol where I had the opportunity to speak to state legislators about the future of the environment in Connecticut, and to Hartford where Lydia and I did tabling work to talk to the public about the Environmental Justice Bill, and to bring attention to number of legislative initiatives headed by the Sierra Club. The Environmental Justice Bill successfully passed last summer, and it was very exciting to play a small role in a much larger project to make Connecticut more environmentally safe and responsible. 

This past year, I have also been working as one of the Bailey College of the Environment’s communications interns. My favorite part of this job is that it has allowed me to connect with a network of students, alumni, faculty members, Think Tank fellows, and grant recipients who are working on a diverse range of environmental work. Through interviews and personal conversations, I have seen firsthand what a large impact Wesleyan’s Bailey College of the Environment is making on our community, and feel inspired by the efforts of people across the department to make positive cultural and environmental changes. This position has been a great opportunity to grow personally and professionally, and I am very thankful to Laurie Kenney, my supervisor, and to the environmental studies department overall, for the many ways that they have supported me throughout my time at Wesleyan. 

This spring, I will be completing my major by working on a senior essay under the guidance of Professor Douglas Foyle, who is an international relations scholar within the Government Department, to create a piece that analyzes our climate crisis through an international security perspective. I am looking forward to synthesizing the academic work I have been doing with the Government Department and the Environmental Studies Program. I have had a wonderful four years at Wesleyan, and cannot wait to see what the future holds!