Political Science major
Mery Muluberehan is determined to make the world a better place by fighting for environmental justice. As a recipient of the Voyager Scholarship from the Obama Foundation and Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, she will have several opportunities to do just that.
She was born in Columbus, Ohio and raised in Louisville by her Ethiopian parents, whose heritage served as a catalyst for Muluberehan’s passion.
“My parents immigrated here from Ethiopia in search of a better life and encouraged me to earn an education to better myself,” Muluberehan said. “Their story of coming here and hearing stories from them growing up has always influenced me. That’s why I’m interested in human rights and environmental justice.”
The Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service will help her forge a debt-free pathway to a career in public service. She also will receive a stipend and free Airbnb housing for a “Summer Voyage” to pursue a summer work-travel experience before she enters her senior year of college and travel credits each year for 10 years after she graduates to continue broadening her work in public service.
Keeping her roots close to her heart, Muluberehan plans to use the award’s post-graduation travel credit to journey to her parents’ home country to effect change beyond the U.S.
“I want to help build up the educational infrastructure back home in Ethiopia to be able to provide basic things like access to transportation and making sure there’s food and water in schools,” she said.
Currently in her junior year, Muluberehan hopes her “voyage” next summer will allow her to gain real world experience with organizations fighting for environmental justice.
“I want to do some nonprofit work and kind of see what the environmental justice movement is like from outside of a classroom standpoint,” she said. “Shining a light on a lot of these nonprofits is one thing I’m really excited to do.”
Though she’s always felt strongly about human rights and environmental issues, it wasn’t until Muluberehan took an environmental justice honor’s seminar class that she was able to bring her passion into focus.
“That was just a fantastic class and it gave me a perfect way to sum up everything I was passionate about,” she said. “Lack of transportation, air and water pollution, environmental racism, human rights abuses, civil rights abuses … a lot of them fall under the umbrella of environmental justice because they’re products of the environment. That class helped me put the word to what I had always been passionate about.”
In addition to being a Voyager Scholar, Muluberehan is a Porter Scholar and Honor’s Scholar, a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), Black and Brown Honors Society, Pre-Law Society and the President’s Council mentoring program, and she volunteers for local nonprofit Evolve502.
“Organizations like Porters and BSU foster a sense of community and help connect people who are not just like-minded, but passionate about inclusivity,” she said. “Diversity of thought is something we need and I like that UofL challenges you. I like that I have a community and professors pushing me to be my best.”
Once she graduates, Muluberehan wants to continue the fight for environmental justice by pursuing a law degree so she can work directly with communities to make an impact. Though she’s keeping her options for law school open, she is determined to find a school that can provide a sense of community like the one she’s thrived in at UofL.
“I think there’s nothing like this community anywhere … it’s very unique to the school,” she said.
“I know that I want to always be tied to this community. It’ll forever be like a home to me – the school and the city and everyone in it.”