Belize experience transformed student into environmental activist

Environmental activist

Penn State Abington junior Karley Feather leads the campus Green Team on a cleanup in the nearby town of Ambler.

Credit: Penn State

When Karley Feather traveled to Belize 18 months ago to earn her scuba diving certification, she was stunned to discover plastics contaminating what she assumed would be the pristine Caribbean Sea.

“I was overcome with anger and grief, and I started stuffing the trash in my dive suit,” the Penn State Abington junior said. “That trip kickstarted my passion for sustainability.”

Since then, Feather has earned her dive master designation and decided she wants to work in coral restoration. She has temporarily transferred to World Campus so she can pursue her environmental goals while still in school.

“This semester, I will be living in Australia to complete my coral restoration certification with hopes that I can start working in coral farming to help restore our oceans to the way they once were,” she said. 

After returning from Belize, Feather replaced all single-use plastics in her life and created a vermicompost for food waste, which reduces the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere. She also switched to a plant-based diet strictly to reduce her carbon footprint.

“A few simple changes can make a huge difference, and then spreading the knowledge you have learned will change the world,” Feather said.

Environmental activist

Penn State Abington student Karley Feather (left) and another member of the campus Green Team plant trees to help reduce the number of pollutants that enter waterways as well as clean the air. 

Credit: Penn State

She began changing the world locally by pursuing her broader environmental objectives at Abington and in the community with the support of Shelly Grinar-Boyd, lecturer in biology. 

“Shelly and I started working together on how we could create a lasting environmental difference,” Feather said.

Feather and Grinar-Boyd established a Penn State Green Team at the Abington campus. Green Teams are comprised of faculty, staff, and students volunteering to take specific actions to help their organization within the University operate in a more efficient, innovative and healthy way. 

The Abington Green Team kicked off its campaign on America Recycles Day last fall with an event featuring representatives from Waste Management and a local environmental advisory council. The next goal of the Green Team is to work with the firm that manages the cafeteria at Abington to offer more compostable dishes and cutlery and plant-based dining options. 

As a result of her activism, Feather was invited to sit on the Abington Chancellor’s Environmental Sustainability Task Force. 

“I focus on sustainability because it is my life and future in my hands.” 

-- Karley Feather, junior in corporate communications at Penn State Abington

Off campus, Feather connected with a local environmental organization.

“We did a community cigarette butt clean up and picked up over 2,279 cigarettes with 10 volunteers in only .3 miles,” she said. “We also did a tree planting to help reduce the number of pollutants that enter our waterways as well as clean our air.”

Feather came to realize that her major in corporate communication dovetails with her advocacy.

“When I first got into environmental activism, I was worried that corporate communication wouldn’t relate at all. No matter where I go and whatever job I may have, I will always have a voice,” she said. “Now with a background in communications, I am able to spread that voice effectively over a wide variety of platforms.” 

Feather said she remembers the state of the environment when she was younger, and now it is changing so quickly.

“I see our forests burning and our ice caps melting. I have seen firsthand the devastation that global temperature risings have had on our oceans. I have seen the garbage in our oceans and on our streets. I have cleaned countless amounts of trash without even making a dent,” she said. “I focus on sustainability because it is my life and future in my hands.” 

About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible, and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 21 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.