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Lessons From Inspirational Women In STEM: “Do an energy audit on your home” with Michelle Covi and Penny Bauder

Do an energy audit on your home or a carbon footprint for your family. Work together to figure out what are the right measures or investments you can do to reduce your impact. Figure out what is practical and meaningful for you. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Covi, PhD. Michelle Covi is an assistant […]


Do an energy audit on your home or a carbon footprint for your family. Work together to figure out what are the right measures or investments you can do to reduce your impact. Figure out what is practical and meaningful for you.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Covi, PhD. Michelle Covi is an assistant professor of practice at Old Dominion University in the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a Virginia Sea Grant extension partner. She conducts research and outreach activities for climate adaptation and coastal resilience efforts for Virginia with an emphasis on Hampton Roads. Her research areas include sea level rise and resilience risk perception and communication, public participation in adaptation planning processes and engagement/outreach practices. She co-organizes the Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise/Flooding Adaptation Forum, a quarterly meeting of adaptation stakeholders and served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Environmental Justice. She has a PhD in Coastal Resources Management, and a Master’s degree in Marine Science.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the city of Baltimore in an old neighborhood on the west side. My parents were in medical fields, but I was interested in the environment and spent a lot of my free time in the small patches of woods and ravines in my neighborhood.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

Yes, in high school we had a field trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay. I had never been out into the salt marsh before and I loved what felt like a wild and natural part of our environment so close to the city. That same year, part of our biology class included a “plot lab” in which we collected data, temperature, soil samples, insects, etc. from a couple of square feet of woods nearby the school. I learned about the process of field collection, but also about the coastal place in which I lived. I knew I wanted to learn more and find ways to protect it.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

Many of us need those on-the-ground experiences to connect with the earth so that we will be inspired to protect what we love. I would like to encourage more experiences in nature, either through formal or informal education experiences. The richer these experiences, the better.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Old Dominion University has started up an Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience. We are investing in new projects and faculty that are focusing on resilience and adaptation to climate change, such as scientists focusing on sea level rise, social scientists focusing on community resilience and engineers focusing on resilience systems.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

Research the flood history of a home before you move in.

Drive less — live close to where you work, use public transit, etc.

Eat less meat.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

· Go outside with your family. Learn about the natural systems that you live in and what they provide for your family. Wetlands give us clean water, fish nurseries and coastal protections. Forest, deserts, and prairies all have important ecosystem services.

· Do an energy audit on your home or a carbon footprint for your family. Work together to figure out what are the right measures or investments you can do to reduce your impact. Figure out what is practical and meaningful for you.

· Vote and talk to kids about who you are voting for and why. Becoming civically engaged with your community on the local or state level demonstrates commitment to be a part of the change that is needed.

· Eat and serve your family nutritious, sustainably grown, vegetable- based meals. Visit places where your food is grown and talk to people that produce your food to understand what it takes to get from field to plate. Farmers markets are a great place to meet growers and learn more about food.

· Learn about where your drinking water comes from. Find out if it is a sustainable source, how clean your supply is and what it takes to have clean water, especially in cities and/or dry parts of the country.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am very grateful to my colleague at Old Dominion University, Larry Atkinson. Often in academics, people are very competitive and self-promoting, Larry [Atkinson] is extremely generous with his time, sharing his connections and expertise. He works with junior faculty and students to connect them to resources and opportunities and inspires this same attitude.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want to inspire a movement of awareness and gratitude for what makes our very existence possible — gratitude for clean air, water, fertile soil and the beauty and abundance of our natural ecological systems. I would want people to devote time each day to doing something that would restore and protect these systems, while also taking promoting our own health and well-being. For me, it is walking along the restored wetlands near my home. It is not a pristine environment, but still has all kind of life that I can appreciate and think about.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

Let the Beauty you love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Rumi.

We each have so many ways we can make the world a better place. In my life I have taken different routes toward this goal, as a teacher, as a friend, as an expert, as a leader. In my life, I have taken lead roles sometimes and team player roles at other times — the role is not as important as the work itself.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

Facebook, Twitter

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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