College of Coastal Georgia Sophomore Lily Heidger will be spending her summer in France doing research that can one day make an impact in the fight against climate change. Heidger is a double major in environmental science and public management and has a passion for sustainability. She was accepted to participate in the International Collaborative Multidisciplinary Investigations Through Undergraduate Research Experiences (I-CEMITURE) program hosted by Georgia Southern University. At the University of Lorraine in Épinal, France, Heidger will research the thermal treatment of biomass. She is very excited about this opportunity and how it will prepare her for a future environmental sustainability career.
Heidger is originally from Northeast Atlanta. She found her way to Coastal Georgia because of the scholarships offered. At first, she planned to transfer after one year, but she fell in love with the College—which has happened to many others before her.
"The people here are amazing. All that I got involved in and the program was great too," she said. "I was getting everything that I needed and more. I liked the small size and the amount of personalization I got as opposed to a bigger school."
Heidger has been passionate about protecting the environment from a young age, so when she started at the College she was a biology major. However, she fell in love with her earth science classes and found that she was attracted to environmental justice.
"The classes all just work together really well and bring a comprehensive understanding of how our earth works and what we can do about it," she said. "I'll be in a sustainability concentration in the fall, and that really allows me to take the science behind it all and pair it with writing, and learn how to translate the science into change and action."
Heidger is keeping her career options open. Although she is unsure about which route to take, she knows it will be something involving sustainability, such as being a sustainability consultant, sustainability manager, participating in environmental policy, or activism.
A Summer in France
Only four students—two graduate and two undergraduate students—were accepted into the I-CEMITURE program to do 10 weeks of intensive collaborative research. It is a competitive and unique opportunity given to students to help solidify their identities as scientists. Heidger will receive a stipend, housing, meal plan, a fund for research supplies, and will have access to professional development and networking opportunities. She will be doing research on a specific type of wood treatment called torrefaction that only uses heat to treat wood and no harmful chemicals.
"We'll be writing a kinetic model for this treatment and will try to distinguish the different ways that you can alter the treatment to get different types of wood products, and how that applies to the industry, economy, and environment," Heidger said. "I'm really looking forward to having a deeper understanding of the science of this. The science is a bit out of my comfort zone. It's a bit chemistry, physics, and math-based, so it's going to give me a lot of experience in that type of research and working with others and professionals in the field."
Heidger and her peers will be writing a peer-reviewed research paper to be published and will also have the opportunity to present their research at conferences.
She learned about the I-CEMITURE program from Assistant Professor of Public Management and Director of the Honors Program Dr. Heather Farley. Farley encouraged her to apply, and Heidger decided to give it a chance. She applied in January, did an interview, and in the beginning of March received an email announcing her acceptance. Heidger said she read the email over a few times to make sure it was real.
"I was just expecting to get the experience of going through an interview process. I was really excited when they told me, and I immediately told my parents, and they were excited for me. Now I'm coming to terms that I'm going to be in France during the summer," she said.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Dr. James Deemy and Farley are Heidger's mentors. Farley learned of Heidger's interest in sustainability through conversations and advising. She remarked that Heidger is "a thoughtful and critical thinker, she is incredibly motivated, and I quite simply love having her in many classes."
As part of the application process, Farley wrote a recommendation letter for Heidger. Part of the letter reads, "As a student, she performs at the highest level in her classes and strives for excellence. Her writing and critical thinking, specifically as it relates to tackling the wicked problems of sustainability and environmental policy, are exceptional. She demonstrates great promise as an academic and researcher and would be an excellent fit for this research experience."
Deemy regards Heidger as an "outstanding early career scientist" and an ideal candidate to represent the College in the I-CEMITURE program.
"Lily can be described most concisely as an enthusiastic and dedicated leader among environmental science majors," Deemy said. "Lily is also the one of first students to be accepted to an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) from our developing program. Our ENVS faculty team is very excited to see Lily rewarded for her selfless dedication to Coastal."
Heidger has the confidence of many who believe this research trip will be a fulfilling experience for her. For Heidger, she also views this trip as a way to build upon her foundation for a future career in sustainability.
"Even though it's not specific to environmental justice, it's one of the background ways we can address climate change and social issues. It's seems like there should be this overarching way to address environmental issues, but there isn't. There's lots of little ways," Heidger said. "So this is one way we can start to change our systems and our habits."
She hopes their research into torrefaction will one day replace the chemical wood treatments across the US with an eco-friendlier method.
"We're taking those steps to keep those chemicals out of our waterways, out of our meals eventually," she said. "It's just going to be a great way to learn that science."
Heidger is also looking forward to experiencing a different culture and being immersed in something different than her day-to-day activities. She hopes to travel to places like Switzerland and Luxembourg, and is excited about enjoying the beautiful University of Lorraine campus.
Only the Beginning
Although this is only Heidger's second year at the College, she recognizes how much she's grown in two years. She came to the College determined to get involved on campus despite feeling terrified and hating public speaking. Heidger pushed herself and learned that she grows the most when she steps out of her comfort zone. When she feels herself getting comfortable, she finds something new that will make her grow and learn in different ways. Her biggest advice to her fellow students is to get involved.
"That was the biggest thing that really made my college experience. You'll eventually find where you fit. Get out there and talk to people, and you will start to gain resources, and you'll find other students who have the same passions," she said. "Make the most out of your college experience. There's so much to do outside the classroom with clubs and opportunities."
She's done a lot in her first two years at the College and is ready to see what the next two years have in store. Heidger is very involved on campus. She is vice president of the Student Government Association, is a member of the Geology Club, serves on the Quality Enhancement Plan Development Committee, is an honors student, and helps the environmental science program in their recruitment efforts.