Mikael-Ann Melfi ’22 grew up in Clayton, N.Y., along the majestic and behemoth Saint Lawrence River. To say that her surroundings left an impression on Melfi would be an understatement. The environmental science systems major has long had a passion for ecology, but that passion was undoubtedly magnified by the fact that the nearly 746-mile-long river, which connects the Great Lakes system to the Atlantic Ocean, runs through her backyard. Melfi spent many elementary school field trips exploring and learning about the river. It is, as she and so many others have discovered, a home for wildlife, a powerful source of energy, and the inspiration for numerous novels, poems and songs.
This summer, though, Melfi’s relationship with the Saint Lawrence grew even richer. It became the site of much of her work as the inaugural Kenneth Deedy Environmental Steward. Melfi collaborated with three local nonprofit organizations – Save the River, the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center and the Thousand Islands Land Trust – to help them better realize their ecological missions. It was, Melfi says, largely “conservation through education,” an opportunity to protect the environment and connect with the river community. Over the course of nine weeks, she collected data on shoals and navigation cells, led nature hikes, and helped control invasive species. More broadly, she learned about how critical community outreach is to conservation.
Professor of Environmental Science Systems Larry Tanner, Ph.D., is “thrilled but not at all surprised” to see Melfi in this unique position, noting that she is a "genuine leader," serving as president of the College’s FORCES (Friends of Recreation, Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship) club and captain of Le Moyne’s swimming and diving team.
“Through her study of environmental science and summer internships she has learned one particularly valuable lesson - to make a difference, you must first pick a place to start, and then just do it,” he says.
Melfi’s work comes at a crucial and historic moment. A recent global survey carried out by the data analytics firm Kantar found that among people 16 to 25, 60 percent said they were worried or extremely worried about the environment. Preserving the planet is the most important challenge Melfi and others of her generation will ever face, and she plans on dedicating to her career to teaching environmental science at the college level. She acknowledges that the work can be daunting in the face of pollution, climate change and the threat of extinction to numerous species of plants and animals. Many, including Melfi, find themselves asking: Can one person really effect change? She believes the answer is yes. Being a part of what she calls “three remarkable organizations” has shown Melfi the difference that can be made when people come together as one to serve the community: It can be as grand and expansive as the Saint Lawrence itself.
“The St. Lawrence River may be just one small area in comparison with the whole planet, but by conserving it through education, research, and conservation, there is no doubt that a true impact is being made,” she says.