WCSU alumna’s passion for sustainable energy fuels career pursuit
Family commitment to alternative energy at Danbury home leads Morrow to UK graduate studies
DANBURY, CONN. — Western Connecticut State University alumna Megan Morrow’s passion to make a personal contribution to building a more energy-efficient and sustainable society began at home, and took flight in studies at Western that now have her preparing to pursue an advanced degree and career in the field of sustainable energy.
Morrow, a Kathwari Honors Program student who received her bachelor’s degree in biology this May from WCSU, will begin a one-year program in September 2015 to attain a Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Systems at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. Her ultimate objective is to earn a doctorate in a related field and embark on a career in renewable energy research and development, either at a higher education institution or in the private sector.
Morrow learned a valuable lesson in sustainability from the decision of her parents, Mark and Dunja, to have solar panels installed on the roof of their Danbury home five years ago. That home solar power grid now meets the family’s electricity requirements for much of the year, with sufficient surplus power to recharge the family’s electric-powered auto.
“I’ve helped my dad with these building projects, such as when we installed a geothermal heating and cooling unit at our home,” Morrow said. “I’ve been interested in sustainable energy for a long time, but it was only after I came to Western that I set my course of study to pursue this as a career.”
She enrolled at Western in fall 2012 as a nursing major with the intent of focusing on the field of orthopedic surgical care, but she soon felt the pull to switch majors and revisit her career goal after taking several courses dealing with environmental themes including the “Climate and Ecology” class taught by Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Mitch Wagener. “We studied how our growing demand for energy has affected climate change,” she recalled. Her parents’ German heritage has helped to heighten her awareness of environmental concerns that have driven energy policy actions across Western Europe, she added, so “the need for using more renewable energy sources has always been a strong interest of mine.”
That interest deepened further when Morrow joined an international group of students for a six-week study-abroad program in Bonn, Brussels and Berlin during summer 2014 to study how European governments and the European Union have structured policies to promote increased use of renewable energy sources. “We visited the headquarters of the European Union and learned that nations in Western Europe are taking more initiative in this area,” she said.
“It was incredibly eye-opening, and made me concerned as an American that we need to be doing more,” she observed. “One difference from Europe is that while we are also concerned with our impact on the environment, we take little action to address this concern. We’re not investing enough in alternative energy sources because coal and oil are so readily available. But these resources eventually are going to run out, and we need to invest in alternative energy now.”
“We shouldn’t be doing this just to improve the climate around the world,” she said. “It’s important to do this to help our own economy, and make our nation more independent by relying less on foreign energy sources.”
Morrow has honed her ability to approach the subject of sustainable energy from diverse directions, ranging from public policy making and ecological impact to the technology of energy generation, thanks in significant part to her experience in the WCSU Kathwari Honors Program. She credited Honors Program Director Dr. Chris Kukk and her fellow Honors students with providing the motivation to take a multi-disciplinary approach that has gone beyond course content to develop effective learning strategies critical to achieving her career goals. “The students in the Honors Program are a very diverse group from different backgrounds, and being part of that group has shaped me as well,” she said. “Honors Program courses challenge you to think and learn in an unconventional way.”
Honors Program student access to priority registration also cleared Morrow’s path to fulfill all course requirements for her biology degree within three years. “I chose Western because I really liked the manageable size of the school, and I was very happy with its affordability,” she said. “What has been fantastic here has been how I could get to know my professors. Professors from my first year at Western continued to keep track of me and helped me in any way that they could.”
Among the faculty mentors who made special contributions to her Western education were Wagener, Kukk, Assistant Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Neeta Connally, and Professor of Physics Dr. Alice Chance. Morrow served as a research assistant to Connally, a specialist in tick-borne and vector-borne diseases, in the biologist’s field study that has placed bait boxes at outdoor residential sites in Connecticut to compare whether the resulting contact of mice with tick-killing pesticides at some locations leads to a reduction in the presence of ticks carrying infectious Lyme disease bacteria.
Morrow will carry the intellectual curiosity of her Western education into her graduate studies and future research pursuits, and remains open to exploring many possible specializations in the field of sustainable energy.
“There are so many alternative sources of energy that hold great potential, and all these possibilities need much more research work,” she said. She views one of the most pressing challenges as the need to advance the technology and affordability of transportation alternatives to traditional gas-fueled vehicles, as a means to reduce pollution and shrink the industry’s carbon footprint. “That is one of the most important challenges we need to tackle,” she remarked. “Electric cars still have problems, but these can be solved. More people must become involved in research and development in this area, and everyone needs to do their part.”
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