Communication and Climate Action. Member Spotlight: Miriah Russo Kelly
Miriah Russo Kelly is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science in the Department of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences at Southern Connecticut State University. She completed her Master of Science degree in Organizational Communication from Central Connecticut State University and her Doctorate degree in Environmental Science from Oregon State University.
Miriah has lived and worked in different countries around the world, from Spain to New Zealand, with environmental outreach and engagement as a key passion for her throughout her life. Though originally a business major in her undergraduate education, her career trajectory quickly shifted towards environmental communication when she studied abroad in Spain. During her time in the Basque Country, she witnessed an oil spill off the coast and immediately rushed to help. Events such as this often initiate difficult discussions around the disastrous effects humans can have on the environment, which may cause people to lose hope in the possibility of positive progress on the issue. However, Miriah tries to hold onto glimmers of hope regardless of the situation. She recognizes from a social-behavioral change perspective that if someone has a sense of despair, it can be very difficult to catalyze change in oneself or others. “Even when you think there isn’t a lot of hope, it’s important that you try to find even a little bit to drive your behavior in the right direction.”
As an educator, Miriah has extensive experience in navigating the complex emotions people have towards climate change and regularly encourages her students to participate in open dialogue about their feelings. Her classroom is a safe space in which people can trust one another not to be judgmental, but willing to listen. This environment is also a product of her abilities as a skilled facilitator as she moderates conversations towards empathy. Further, she has her students practice a variety of simulation activities where they’re tasked with assuming the roles and mindsets of diverse stakeholders when approaching contentious issues. In doing so, she provides experience in understanding others’ perspectives and thinking outside of their own paradigms, leading to more compassionate communication. “I always saw communication as the solution to our problems – in my life, in the community, and at the global scale. If we don’t have open communication, what do we have?”
This year marked the third time Miriah has participated in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Over the past year and a half, she has successfully championed efforts to obtain observer status for Southern Connecticut State University. “I felt so strongly about it because the conversations around climate action are very much dominated by top tier research universities and Ivy League institutions that have power and influence in the world. For me, it means everything to that give voice to our diverse student community.” There are many students at the university who are part of the Latinx community, first generation university students, and young parents who have different perspectives to share. “I want to give them the tools to assert their opinions, because they matter just as much as that professor from Yale.” Miriah says she’s on a mission to create further leadership positions for her students and opportunities to have these transformative experiences such as attending international conferences that can help students progress in their careers.
Miriah believes that of all the skills she has learned in life, learning to understand the role of mediation and facilitation has been the most useful – amongst stakeholders in the field, in her classroom, and in her own research. With these skills, she is able to bring herself to the center of an issue and truly empathize with both sides of a conflict. “As a world, we need to start coming together. We won’t get anything done if we’re so polarized in our values.” She sees herself and other mediators as having a huge role to play in bringing people together to meet in the middle of both local and global issues. When encouraging people to care about climate action, she says that “it’s our job to listen and understand where people are coming from, what they value, and engage in a meaningful conversation with them” in order to pave the way for future transformation of behavior.
As a professional who has engaged with many different organizations in her work, Miriah says she appreciates working with MBBI the most because of how greatly its members value these human components of issues. “At the COP, there is a lot of understanding of science and technology, but not a lot of people who understand people and that’s absolutely what we need to solve the problems. It’s a human problem with a human solution.”
A lifelong educator who is passionate about giving back to her community and supporting individuals in their professional journeys, Miriah consistently encourages others to reach out to her if they need guidance. She enjoys being an open resource to advise and mentor people, having also invited many to participate in her research.
Reflecting upon her own career path, she also encourages others to take risks that she was initially afraid to take herself. “Even though I’ve taken on many decisions life has put in front of me, they weren’t without fear. However, I learned through experience that great things can happen when you take the risk, no matter how afraid you are”
Article by Chloe Pan, MBBI Writer