Kelsey Murlless (2021, BA Environment and Sustainability Studies, Minor in Politics and International Affairs)

Climate and Energy Fellow at Third Way in Washington, DC
Kelsey Murlless ('21)
Kelsey Murlless (’21)

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on. 

I work as a Climate and Energy Fellow at Third Way, a center-left think tank based in Washington, DC. My work centers around supporting clean energy innovation at the federal level. This entails advocating for certain policies and supporting the development of new technologies that will fuel the energy transition. My favorite part of this job is the ability it gives me to engage in a wide variety of topics that are pivotal in the quest for decarbonization.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

I had quite the windy path to get to my current role. After graduation, I worked for Guidehouse as an Operations Analyst in their financial investigations unit. After working in this role for a while, I decided I wanted to refocus on my interest in the environment – however, none of the jobs I was interested in were also interested in me. Therefore, I decided to head back to school to pursue a master’s degree. I settled on a MS in Sustainability Management from American University to chart a career path for myself in the world of corporate sustainability and ESG. While completing the degree, I also worked at a small consultancy as an Energy and Environmental Policy Intern where I learned the ins and outs of the energy policy space. This position directly led me to apply for my current role. I decided to pivot back to policy because of the current momentum in the space. Over the past two years, the federal government has poured billions of dollars into clean energy – making it an exciting time to be working in this sector!

What was the most challenging aspect of your first “real world job” and what did you learn from it?

I began my first job post-grad completely remote while living at home. It was a difficult experience to transition from living with friends and enjoying college life to working full time on a computer all day. The remote nature of the job forced me to become a master of time management and self-advocacy. The main challenge with this job, as I’m sure many other remote workers have faced, was staying in one location all day by myself. Scheduling little things to do after work, like meeting friends for drinks or just going on a run, became an important routine for me.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?

Truthfully, I’m still figuring everything out myself but my best advice is to not be afraid to lean on others and ask for help. Chances are you know people going through the same challenges as you.

How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?

When I moved to DC, I promised myself I would start saying “yes” to things – studying with others, visiting a museum, grabbing coffee, going out for drinks. Truly, this mindset made all the difference after moving to a new place. It helped me meet new people and experience the city in different ways.

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

I had great professors at Wake Forest that convinced me to create a my own major in environmental studies before the current major was established. My study abroad program gave me the opportunity to climb wind turbines, tour waste incineration plants, and hike glaciers melting in Iceland. My grad school professors provided me with the chance to work with important players in the climate space such as WRI. All of these experiences – led by different mentors – have led me down my current professional path.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

Stop comparing yourself to others. No single path to success looks the same. I feel that we fall into this pattern of expecting college graduates to have life figured out the minute that they are out of school. But that is never really the case. Find what excites you and try to turn that into a job. I decided as a student at WFU that climate change scared me, and I wanted to do something about it. While I’ve jumped between the worlds of consulting, business, and policy, I never lost the drive to make a difference in the climate and energy space.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

In the climate and energy space, jobs frequently depend on new innovations, regulations, and events. Currently, I strive to stay up to date on developments in both the energy policy space and the ESG world to figure out what this arena will look like in 2, 5, 10 years into the future.

Story published in January 2024. For current updates on Kelsey’s career path, visit her LinkedIn profile.