Whenever Calley Mersmann sees unclean air, contaminated water, and transportation boondoggles, she sees injustice. But she’s well aware that justice won’t be served through hostile overtures, but rather through thoughtful work on local, state, national, and international levels.
“I want to get at the root at what I think is one of the main environmental problems in America, which is environmentalists expecting people to radically change what they’re doing, which is unrealistic,” said Calley, who received her ecology degree in May and is now seeking a master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University with a focus on local government, environmental policy, and sustainable development. “It’s important to make it possible for people to make slight lifestyle alterations and live the way they’re accustomed to, with fewer ramifications.”
While Calley’s career focus is to be a sustainability director of a major American city, much of her plan of study has been devoted to climate change, which has taken her from the beachfronts of Costa Rica to the lab at the Odum School of Ecology on the UGA campus.
“In the ecology lab, I worked on a long-term soil-warming experiment, which basically meant I had a lot of test tubes with soil in them that I incubated for a long time,” said Calley. “The purpose of the research is to see if soil microbes adjust to long-term temperature change.”
Calley also got a firsthand look at ecotourism in Costa Rica and spent five weeks in Ecuador with the Shuar, an indigenous group toiling to preserve its forest and improve in-town infrastructure to attract the tourist industry. She also had an internship in the Odum School’s Office of Sustainability.
But perhaps her most memorable sustainability-related experience came last year when she spent the summer working on the policy team for a small nonprofit in Cleveland, Ohio, researching the establishment and implementation of a citywide home weatherization program.
“I had a chance to talk to a lot of different people who made different recommendations to create a municipal program,” said Calley. “It was really cool because it allowed me to see, on the local level, interaction in the United States in a rust-belt city trying to find out what it wants to look like in the next decade.”
Calley’s most significant on-campus contributions have come under the auspices of the UGA Ecology Club and Habitat for Humanity. She led a football gameday recycling program – Cans for Habitat – that collected recyclable aluminum cans, raising funds for Habitat and preserving precious landfill space. She termed the effort “an environmental and community victory.”
“I look at my undergraduate degree as a solid foundation for moving on,” she said. “I’m looking at transitioning my foundation into a degree in the public administration sphere because I’d like to work on a local scale, probably in an urban area, to implement sustainability initiatives.”
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