Spotlight on Clare McCarthy

In 2018, Clare McCarthy joined Pitt for a summer at the Governor's School for Global & International Studies, administered by the Global Studies Center, which inspired her to become a global citizen and changemaker. We caught up with Clare on the heels of her recognition with the McMullan Award, which recognizes one Emory University graduate who is expected to do extraordinary things on a community, national, and global scale.


What has your path looked like since summer 2018?

Clare McCarthy: After summer 2018, I finished my senior year of high school. I felt pretty lost during my senior year, not sure how to translate the incredible knowledge and experiences from Gov School into making change in my community. I felt profoundly guilty for how I went through my life before Gov School, my American privilege allowing me to be blind to global injustices. After graduating from high school, I started my freshman year at Emory. I decided to major in Environmental Sciences and minor in Community Building and Social Change. I became deeply involved in the sustainability community at Emory, joining the Emory Climate Reality Project, working as an Office of Sustainability Initiatives Intern, serving as an Environmental Sciences Teaching Assistant, and co-founding the Emory Climate Coalition. Alongside my team of passionate peers, I planned multiple climate strikes and was even fortunate enough to be part of the Emory delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 27th Conference of the Parties in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. I just graduated last month, and I already miss my undergrad years at Emory!


What are you working on now? What do you think your next steps will look like?

CM: Currently, I am working a summer fellowship in Groton, CT. The fellowship is a program through the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute that matches students or recent graduates with sustainability projects around the Northeast. My project focuses on helping the Town of Groton plan for the current and future impacts of extreme heat, considering the disproportionate impacts on historically marginalized sectors of the community. I'm passionate about the intersection of public health and climate change, and extreme heat is one of the key health impacts of climate change. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work on this project.

After this summer, I'll return to Emory and finish my Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree in Environmental Health with a Certificate in Climate and Health. I plan to complete my capstone project in climate and health in Atlanta. After I graduate, I'll enter the workforce, but I'm not completely sure what my job might look like. My ultimate career goal is to pursue work that prepares climate-vulnerable populations to respond to the health impacts of climate change, which is still pretty niche, as climate and health is a growing field. I am still deciding whether I want to work at a local level, in which case I would likely stay in Atlanta and work for the City of Atlanta or an environmental justice and/or climate action nonprofit. I am also potentially interested in working at an international level, in which case I may work for a climate action organization like the Climate Reality Project, or an intergovernmental organization like the World Health Organization. I will begin applying to jobs this fall!


How do you think your experience at the Governor’s School led you where you are today?

CM: Before Gov School, I had heard about climate change and knew the basics, but Gov School was the first time I officially learned about climate science. However, what really inspired me to dedicate my future study and work to climate change was learning about the human implications. One lesson that has remained with me since that summer is "climate change most impacts the people who contribute least." I was disturbed that countries like mine were contributing the most, while people like me were privileged to not feel direct climate impacts in our own lives. Climate inequity is the main social injustice I hope to address in my future career.

As I mentioned, I started off my senior year feeling guilty, but helpless. Since I had no idea how to enact change around me, I pursued lifestyle changes—from vegetarianism to only buying secondhand clothes—and I have maintained these changes until today. I actually wrote my Common App essay about how Gov School sparked my personal transformation!

Once I started at Emory, I realized my guilt was not productive, and channeled my energy into action. Guided by the passion and knowledge I had developed at Gov School, I entered environmental spaces at Emory and wielded my power as a student to convince the administration to enact more urgent climate initiatives.


Why would you recommend attending Gov School? How do you think students can get the most out of their experience like you did?

CM: Gov School is perhaps one of the most unique experiences I'll ever have. I don't know if I will ever be exposed to so many rich lessons that broaden my worldview (without grades!) and meet so many inspiring peers, many of whom have become lifelong friends, in just a single month again. I grew so much over the course of that month, and I often think about how fortunate I was to have attended.

It is often an uncomfortable and unfamiliar experience. I remember feeling "behind," because so much of the information was brand new, and everyone in the cohort was incredibly intelligent and eloquent. So much of the information was also emotionally charged, as I struggled to come to terms with the massive, crushing global crises we learned about. I would encourage students to embrace the discomfort. It's okay to not be the most knowledgeable person in the room, and it's okay to feel overwhelmed. Just do your best to stay curious and open, ready to internalize the lessons that come your way.


What advice would you offer high school and college students as they seek inspiration and figure out their path?

CM: It's totally fine (and expected!) to not have a clear path when you finish high school and enter college. College is an opportunity to explore what you think might interest you, so take your time an explore as much as you can! I encourage students to find what makes them feel genuinely passionate and excited about creating change in the world around them.

Also, career fields tied to Gov School topics are, as I have mentioned, emotionally heavy. I think about climate change every day, and the only way I have been able to cope is by sharing the burden with other passionate people putting in amazing work. Once you find your passion, surround yourself with other people who care. Build up your community of changemakers, as this not only creates networks for collaboration, but a support system. No one can do the work alone.