Carnegie Mellon University
May 03, 2023

Environmental and Sustainability Studies Alumna Awarded Fulbright Scholarship

The Steinbrenner Institute catches up with Maegan Bogetti.

By Kathy Zhang

Maegan Bogetti, an alumna of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program, has been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.

Since graduating in December of 2022, Maegan has been leaning into rest and things that bring her joy, such as traveling, trying new restaurants, and reading a lot. She has also been working as the Outreach Coordinator for Green Village Initiative and Digital Media and Communications Intern for Breathe Project, two organizations she is extremely proud to be working with. Through her work with Breathe Project, Maegan has been a part of several campaigns largely spearheaded by community members who are afflicted by poor air quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania. She specifically works with community members from Braddock, Clairton, and the broader Mon Valley, as well as resident groups monitoring existing petrochemical facilities and intervening to prevent further petrochemical expansion. She has learned a lot about the many layers of this resistance – from intervening during the permitting stage, to sharing personal stories, to creating pathways for residents to create a record keeping system for the things they see, hear, and smell, to navigating politics within organizations that are meant to help residents, but who often let them down or outright mistreat them.

Only a few weeks after Maegan began her internship role at the Breathe Project, the train derailment and explosion in East Palestine, Ohio happened, and she unfortunately witnessed firsthand how resident concerns, questions, and health impacts are often ignored and silenced to protect corporations. "Although it can be pretty crushing work, the community members who continue to show up and speak up give me so much hope, and I feel such a sense of pride at each small gain they accomplish. Managing to organize groups of neighbors to show up at a public hearing and oppose a permit for a compressor station or fracking site is a momentous effort, let alone when you're currently battling health impacts of living near toxic facilities. I don't think that most people are in tune with how devoted and powerful the networks of community organizing are, and this work has confirmed for me that mutual aid and community organizing will really be our biggest asset and hope in an environmentally challenged world."

This work pushed Maegan to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. The international education exchange program offers a variety of scholarships every year. Maegan received an Open Study/Research Award for Naples, Italy, where she will be conducting a nine month community-based environmental justice research project. The project takes an environmental justice approach to analyzing the waste crisis happening there from the 1980s onward, with impacts still being felt today. The crisis was declared a national emergency in 2008, as the mafia-run waste dumping and incineration operation resulted in heaps of trash drowning the city and health impacts on residents from the incineration. However, many have criticized early government inaction on the problem and attempted to invalidate the impacts on local people and the environment. Maegan will be interviewing grassroots environmental organizations and leaders to assess how this crisis impacted the environmental worldview of the Naples community and resulted in unique local government policies and human-nature relationships today. She will also study the urban-rural divides that emerged in how the crisis was handled across Naples compared to Acerra, Nola, and Marigliano, three regions forming "Il Triangolo Della Morte" (the triangle of death), known for high cancer-related mortality rates stemming from the waste crisis.

Conducting her research in Italy holds a lot of significance for Maegan. Though her family is ancestrally Italian, she says that her connections to Italian culture have been largely lost and the language completely lost. She saw the yearning for this cultural connection in the food her family made growing up, in the media they engaged with, and in the dreams of her parents and sister to one day visit Italy. Maegan realized that these cultural groundings in food and place were really rooted in a connection to the land. In Italy, the well-known pride for food and cuisine comes from pride for one's region and its bounties, so hearing about the impacts of the Naples waste crisis on farmland was particularly resonant. "The place we are from or where we grow up deeply influences our relationship with the environment. I grew up witnessing the health impacts my grandfather, a former coal miner, faced and eventually drew connections between this poor health and similar impacts of the coal industry on the health of the local environment. These experiences fundamentally shaped my relationship with nature, so I'm interested in studying these same impacts in the Naples community while also creating these connections back to my own family's past history."

Maegan believes that international and cross-cultural solidarity in environmental justice movements will be a critical factor in moving towards a more sustainable future as a global community as the climate crisis worsens. Through her Fulbright, she hopes to apply lessons she has learned through her education and work on U.S. based environmental justice movements to the situation in Naples and to learn lessons from the grassroots network and community there that can be brought back with her. Maegan feels grateful for the opportunity to immerse herself in the community and culture of Naples and the Campania region and to speak first hand with local organizers and impacted community members. 

After completing her year abroad, Maegan will be pursuing her Masters of Environmental Management with a concentration in People, Equity, and the Environment at Yale University. The program is grounded in interdisciplinarity, with foundational courses in human science, physical science, ecology, and microeconomics, and is one of the only Masters programs to have an explicit core of environmental justice. Maegan is honored that she will be working with environmental justice leader and trailblazer, Dr. Dorceta Taylor, at Yale. She hopes to keep doing community-centered work and facilitating amplification of the voices of frontline communities in environmental solution-making. Whether that role will be within an academic institution or in the nonprofit world, she knows that the collaboration of each of these industries is important and hopes to aid in creating more healthy relationships across them in her work. "I hope that by sharing the connections and spaces for collaborations I see in my work in the U.S. and my research in Italy, I will encourage others to think about cross-cultural and international solidarity in environmental justice and the rich opportunities that arise when we learn from and amplify others."

Maegan's Environmental and Sustainability Studies additional major enlightened her to the necessity of being surrounded by students and professors from all disciplines and backgrounds. She believes that this rich diversity of identities and knowledge is critical in finding solutions to environmental problems. It inspired her to broaden her own bases of knowledge and showed her how valuable grounding knowledge in personal experiences and the stories others share is. "Those experiences are our knowledge, and are crucial to finding socially, and not just environmentally, sustainable solutions."

She encourages other students to "aim with what feels like a long shot ... I entered CMU feeling totally overwhelmed and underprepared as a first generation college student from a rural small town in central Pennsylvania. I never would have imagined that three and half years later I'd be preparing to complete a Fulbright in Italy and then after, attend Yale. I found so many professors and faculty members who believed in me and absolutely rallied behind me along the way. They were so willing to answer my silly questions, provide advice, and guide me through the process. I'd like to extend an extra special thank you to Professor Andrew Ramey, my Global Studies advisor, and Richelle Bernazolli at the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development. Not only would I not be here without them, my fundamental belief in myself and what I can achieve wouldn't be the same either."