Changing majors at NC State can seem like a daunting task. But, for Goodnight Scholar and NC State Alum Olivia Merritt ’21, changing majors sophomore year from Wildlife Biology to Natural Resources Policy and Administration was the key stepping stone to changing the world through Environmental Policy work. Catch up with this recent graduate in our latest Goodnight Scholars Program Alumni Spotlight!
Goodnight Scholars Program: What inspired you to pursue a degree in Natural Resources Policy and Administration at NC State?
Olivia Merritt ’21: I started out as a Wildlife Biology major, because I had done volunteering all throughout high school with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh in the bird department. But, I realized that I wanted to have more of a direct impact with environmental work in policy because I was doing a study, and publishing the work, and then hoping that someone would look at the study results and make an impactful policy change. I also realized I want to be more on the direct front of doing something about environmental change and planning out how to increase biodiversity, or maintain biodiversity with birds and other animals. I would rather help people, so I wanted that direct action in my career so that’s why I ultimately switched to Natural Resources Policy Administration. I love the College of Natural Resources at NC State. We are a small college and pretty tight knit.
How has your education at NC State and experience in the good night scholarship program prepared you for what you’re doing now and what are you doing now?
The main reason I got my job right after college was from work at NC State. My freshman year at NC State, I interned with the sustainability office, working on greenhouse gas inventory. My current role is doing a greenhouse gas inventory for this awesome credit union called Self-Help Credit Union. I am doing two reports, one on calculating the emissions of the offices of Self-Help Credit Union, and the other one (which is a fairly new kind of carbon accounting) is financial carbon accounting. Financial carbon accounting looks at banks and credit unions borrowers and helps them understand their carbon footprint. With Self-Help, they do not invest in fossil fuels, but they invest in restaurants and solar farms and each of these borrowers has an individual carbon footprint, so in my current role, I am capturing those footprints. The Goodnight Scholars Program was amazing in helping me create a LinkedIn profile and also learn professional development with things like writing a cover letter and having a solid resume. So, I think the Goodnight Scholars Program played a big role in me getting this post-graduation job. I also moved to the DC area after school because I want to go into environmental policy, so I have been networking towards landing a role in that space and the Goodnight Scholars Program also taught me how to professionally network.
What is your fondest memory from your undergraduate years at NC State?
The first thing that comes to mind are the Trinidad and Tobago Spring Break trips with the Goodnight Scholars Program. I went on the Trinidad trip twice during my undergraduate years, and both were amazing. My first Trinidad trip was probably my fondest NC State memory, just because I had way less responsibility because I was a trip leader the second time around. Seeing the culture of Trinidad and really bonding with other Goodnight Scholars was incredible. Seeing the amazing landscapes of Trinidad and Tobago and birdwatching and bird banding were some of the trip highlights for me. I am still good friends with other Goodnight Scholars that I connected with on that trip.
What inspires you career wise?
I have always loved the natural world and animals. When I was younger, my parents let me volunteer at cool places like the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina. The Conservators Center is a center for abused and neglected exotic animals like tigers and lions. I helped socialize a couple of wolf pups there, and as a 12 year old, that was the most amazing experience ever. From then on, I knew I wanted to work with animals. Then I started volunteering at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the bird department. My mentor at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences was a naturalist, so he didn’t just care about birds, he also cared about how birds fit within the entire ecosystem. So from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science experience, I really gained respect and appreciation for how the entire environment works. That is when I thought I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, and I wanted to study these ecosystems and write papers on them. But at the same time, I have always had the idea of what I can do that will have the most impact as a career. I just saw the bureaucracy and the struggle to get a scientific paper published, and some people read it but no real change comes from it. This is where my career mindset shifted. I knew if I wanted to do impactful work, that I should be the one helping make decisions about the environment and make decisions about reducing our use of fossil fuels and reducing waste as humans. Because of that, sophomore year I decided to drop my wildlife biology major and switch to Natural Resources Policy Administration. Long term, I would help cities and countries come up with plans to implement a lot of different projects like solar farms and urban gardens.
What do you do for fun or any hobbies that you love?
I love to read. I am a total book nerd, and I mainly like to read fiction. Since I moved to Alexandria, I have loved walking to the Potomac River because it’s only a 15 minute walk from my apartment! There’s also a greenway that goes right along the river and after a few minutes on the Greenway, you come around the bend and you can see the DC skyline. I also love cooking and hanging out with friends!
Is there any advice you think is important for current NTC students and Goodnight Scholars to hear?
I would say, if you’re passionate about something, then go for it.
I would say, if you’re passionate about something, then go for it. Even if it’s not going to make you the most money, or even if your parents or friends are asking you “are you sure you want to do that?” If you care about it enough, then you should just go for it. Also, be okay with saying no. A lot of times, Goodnight Scholars have a very hard time saying no to things, but sometimes saying no can be the best thing for your mental health, because you deserve the rest. Also, just cherish your time at NC State and with the Goodnight Scholars Program, because I miss it.