In Your Words

Biophilia: Environmental Studies Senior Mya Wells on Protecting the Earth and BIPoC Populations

headshot of Mya Wells against white brick background

Mya Wells is a senior biology major with a double minor in environmental studies and chemistry. She has worked in the Burke Laboratory since sophomore year through the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. In the Summer of 2019, Mya spent four weeks at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana conducting research on the vulnerability of phytoplankton to marine heatwaves through HU’s Global Education and Awareness Research Undergraduate Program (GEAR-UP) program; and another six weeks traveling through Germany and the United Kingdom building a network of scientists and professionals through the Global Sustainability Scholars (GSS) program. During the pandemic, she conducted research virtually on food cooperatives as a possible method of combatting food apartheid in Wilmington, Delaware.

What made you choose environmental studies?

I took Dr. Janelle Burke’s Introduction to Environmental Studies course and fell in love. One word that stuck out to me during this course was “Biophilia.” It is a “love of life” – the idea that humans have a tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. I was enamored by the infinite solutions to the world’s environmental problems, yet frustrated by the world’s inability to make substantial progress in implementing these solutions. From that point on, I decided to work toward implementing creative solutions for climate change and preparing BIPoC communities for climate change's imminent effects.

Your research focuses on the health effects of the environment. What is it that intrigued you the most?

My original research, titled “The Air We Breathe,” examines airborne particulate matter from traffic and construction around Howard University’s campus and later shifted focus to testing air quality depth from a busy street like Georgia Avenue. Harmful particle pollution can cause asthma attacks and respiratory inflammation. Levels of air pollution are even more concerning during this pandemic because it exacerbates COVID-19. These experiences affirmed the importance and need for conducting transdisciplinary research, connecting the fields of public health and environmental studies.

What do you want incoming freshmen or undecided majors to know about this degree?

Environmental studies is such a unique field in that it is transdisciplinary and requires people with different skills, interests and backgrounds to work together to solve problems. Careers in environmental health, law, design, engineering, etc. are extremely viable and await Howard students to bring our invaluable lived experiences to the table. BIPoC are a rarity in this field, yet environmental issues have — and will continue to — affect our communities first and

foremost.

What are your career plans after graduation?

I am in pursuit of a career as a lifelong-learner and physician-scientist, advocating for pollution-free communities as a human right, and empowering communities plagued by environmental hazards and disasters.