In this blog post, Class of 2022-23 alumni Catherine shares her journey at Duke University, one of the world’s leading institutions, and reflects on the evolution of her passion for environmental change.

There is a saying that a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. Although my journey began years ago, I feel like this is when I am truly starting, probably because the journey that I imagined years ago has changed its course. I am now at one of the best universities in the world, with a diverse student body, distinguished professors, and immense resources. I am surrounded by brilliant students, all multitalented and unique, and there I am as one of them. Sometimes, I fail to believe I am here. Of course, this always reminds me that I am here for a reason, and I have seized the opportunity to contribute to my community, make more connections, excel in my education, and make new friends and family among my peers and professors.

My experience at Duke so far has been exposing, adventurous, full of surprises, and great overall. I have met new people, come across new cultures, and seen the world through a different lens and space. At first, everything was so overwhelming, but after some time, I adapted and gave way to my curiosity, which came with a lot of opportunities. One of the many things that I appreciate is having passed through Our Moon before coming to the United States. If I had not passed through it, I would not have had all the skills, knowledge, and discipline that have helped me live in harmony with new people and thrive in this foreign country. I also appreciate that Our Moon helped me with finding a host family for me in the United States. The Mufalos have been helping me a lot. They check up on me regularly to see if there is anything I need and advise me on issues with my academics. They are like my family away from home. 

One of the many things I have enjoyed doing at Duke so far is exploring courses. Although I was certain that I wanted to be an environmental science major, I have also taken full advantage of the liberal arts curriculum at Duke. I have explored social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, literature, and the arts, which has been a very interesting journey because it helped me unlock some of my hidden passions. While exploring these courses, I encountered two professors whose work sparked my interest. Eventually, I got the opportunity to work for them as a research assistant in Environmental Justice and the Global Politics of Climate Change. Before starting to do this research, I was a pro-minded environmentalist. I only cared about the impacts that human activities have on the environment and disregarded the fact that those activities are also among the factors that contribute to human survival. Now I understand that as much as there is a need to conserve the environment and reduce greenhouse gases, there is also a need to continue developing and growing economically as this is also a part of survival in many ways. For this reason, I want to understand how we can reach a balance between the two subjects, and to do so, I hope to double major in both economics and environmental science and policy.

Working with my professors as their research assistant opened more opportunities for me. I was awarded a Kenan Institute Summer Fellows Award of 5000 U.S. dollars to do a research project of my choice with the supervision of my two professors. I saw this as an opportunity to make an impact back home, so I chose to do this research in Zambia. I grew up near Lusaka’s biggest dumpsite called Chunga Dumpsite. Half of Lusaka’s waste is dumped here and incinerated, but this causes different types of pollution in the surrounding residences, especially toxic air fumes. In my first semester, I learned about Environmental Justice mapping tools which showed that there is a strong correlation between heavily air polluted areas and the prevalence of asthmatic patients in those areas. I grew up near Chunga dumpsite and was asthmatic my entire time there. Unfortunately, Zambia does not have Environmental Justice tools to map this correlation. Therefore, I want to do research that will enable me to find the correlation and analyze the results in terms of environmental justice and public health for the people of Chunga and surrounding areas. I am very excited about this project, and with the supervision of my professors, it will hopefully succeed.

Otherwise, my first year at Duke has been amazing, and I am happy that I got the opportunity to do an amazing project back home. I am also happy that I will have time to spend with my family and friends. I also cannot wait to go and visit the land-Our Moon. A land of opportunities, memories, and amazing people

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