Undergraduate researchers tackle environmental issues around the world

Each April, the University of Georgia celebrates undergraduate research through the CURO Symposium. And each April, the world celebrates Earth Day.

Undergraduate researchers at UGA have the opportunity to tackle worldwide problems, including issues having to do with the environment. Below, three CURO students share what they’re doing to make a difference on Earth Day and every day.

Davis Potts presented on “How Does Sustainability Policy Affect Local Industries? A Study in the Archipelago of the Açores” at the 2023 CURO Symposium. His faculty mentor is Gregory M. Thaler, assistant professor of international affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs.

“Hi! My name is Davis Potts. I am a second-year Honors student at UGA who studies international affairs, Portuguese, and sustainability. I am also from Watkinsville.

Davis Potts at a donkey sanctuary.

“Last summer, I researched how sustainability policy in the Açores—an autonomous region off the coast of Portugal—affected local industries. The Açores are known for their mountainous and coastal landscapes, and protecting them is of vital importance.

“The archipelago released a Sustainability Action Plan in 2019. I traveled to the archipelago and interviewed business owners, local fishermen, a donkey sanctuary owner, and government officials to understand how the 2019 Sustainability Action Plan influenced locals. The results were interesting, with there being a consensus that the policy was improving waste management, but there was an important factor missing, which was education.

“To improve upon contemporary sustainability policy, my research found that educating workers in all fields was believed to be necessary. Also, some interviewees felt that regulations of large companies were less stringent than those focused on small businesses.”

Maisy Hufford presented on “The Environmental and Economic Consequences of Fast Fashion: How SHEIN is Altering the Fashion Industry” at the 2023 CURO Symposium. Her faculty mentor is Susana Octavio Ferreira, a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Maisy is a second-year student from Atlanta majoring in environmental economics and management and political science.

“My research highlights ways in which we can reduce water waste and lower our carbon footprint through mindful shopping practices.

“It’s important to me to find ways in which the average individual can fight the environmental crisis. Oftentimes, we place blame for pollution and other environmental damages on big manufacturers and industries, but as consumers we have just as much power to protect our planet when given the right tools to succeed.

“Based on my studies, I’ve come to define sustainability as a productive output level ensuring consumer needs are met today without preventing future needs from being able to be met due to excess resource depletion or irreversible environmental damage.”


Kate Winters presents on “The Role of Stakeholder Engagement in Natural and Nature-Based Infrastructure” at the 2023 CURO Symposium.

Kate Winters presented on “The Role of Stakeholder Engagement in Natural and Nature-Based Infrastructure” at the 2023 CURO Symposium. Her faculty mentor is Félix Santiago-Collazo, an assistant professor in resilient infrastructure for sustainability and equity in the School of Environmental, Civil, Agriculture, and Mechanical Engineering.

Kate is a third-year Honors student from Cumming majoring in environmental engineering. Her research focus is on community outreach to encourage the implementation of natural and nature-based infrastructure.

“My research group is focused on using natural and nature-based infrastructure to address and alleviate severe weather issues—particularly as they worsen due to climate change.

“Our projects are mostly focused on coastal communities where tides and rising sea levels are an issue of serious concern. Natural and nature-based infrastructure helps to address this by reducing stormwater runoff, increasing soil retention, and increasing water storage capacity all while providing ecological benefits to the affected communities.”

In April, on Earth Day, and during every month of the year, our students are making a difference, for today and for the future. Your gift to the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities opens doors, changes lives, and creates pathways to greater learning.

We would love to partner with you to bring undergraduate research to even more students at the University of Georgia. Click here to learn more or to give to CURO.