Sophomore Contributes to Essential Climate Change Research

Caroline Fehlman, from Jefferson, North Carolina, although only a sophomore, is already playing a role in influential research. She is currently assisting Appalachian State University scientists and researchers in analyzing climate change and sustainable development goals. 

A general mathematics major, Fehlman began her Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA) with Appalachian scientists Dr. Gregg Marland and Dr. Dennis Gilfillan, both in Appalachian’s Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics (RIEEE) in spring 2020. URAs offer highly motivated undergraduate students the opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor on their research, scholarship or creative activity.

Fehlman’s research through the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, where Marland holds a dual appointment, entails determining which groups of people are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Vulnerabilities among these demographics include economic, health and wellbeing and environmental disadvantages. The research project is designed to be released to the public to influence mitigation policies that alleviate environmental injustices.

Fehlman’s individual responsibilities include summarizing literature reviews and data involving information about climate change, carbon emissions and other sustainable development goals. She spent the past year tuned into various social justice movements which sparked her passion for positive social change.

“I want to contribute to society by demonstrating that injustices are legitimate and that certain demographics are more vulnerable to climate change than others. I am hoping the research I am assisting with will be utilized to show the actual effects of environmental social injustices,” said Fehlman.

The Drive to do Scientific Research

Marland explained that he has often researched carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere as these primarily drive global climate change. What he has realized is that climate change is one of many elements of human concern and a sustainability issue. Last year, Fehlman, with a strong science background and an interest in data analysis, approached him about getting involved with his research. “After helping with some data processing she came forward with an interest in focusing on how different demographics of people are impacted by climate change,” said Marland.

With the combined efforts of Marland’s research partner, Gilfillan, the three began delving deeper. “I have a lot of history in looking at the issues of carbon dioxide accounting, Dennis Gilfillan has broad skills in data processing and analysis and Caroline has curiosity and analytical skills - so it makes a great team to explore further. I always enjoy working with students who are curious and hard-working and Caroline’s work is going to bring us important insights and some ideas for moving forward,” explained Marland.

Gilfillan also described Fehlman as very diligent in completing her tasks, and not one to shy away from a challenge. “One of the tasks she has done recently would be a challenge for most students to perform, working with complex data files that are usually reserved for atmospheric scientists and other advanced data scientists. We are training her to be a leader in applying her mathematics degree to helping approach some unique data-driven research,” said Gilfillan. 

Overall, Fehlman feels the research experience is helping her grow professionally and enhance her skills. Following graduation, she plans to pursue graduate school and eventually a Ph.D. Her eventual hope is to teach mathematics to college students and additionally conduct environmental-related research.

Conducting research among established scientists Marland and Gilfillan has been a great learning experience for Fehlman. “I am grateful to be surrounded by very experienced people who are invested in what they do and want to help other students pursue their passions,” explained Fehlman.


About the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Located in Western North Carolina, Appalachian State University provides the perfect setting to study geological and environmental sciences. The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences provides students with a solid foundation on which to prepare for graduate school or build successful careers as scientists, consultants and secondary education teachers. The department offers six degree options in geology and two degree options in environmental science. Learn more at

About the Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics
Since 2008, Appalachian State University’s Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics (RIEEE) has fostered interdisciplinary research on the environment, energy and economics, especially the areas in which these subjects intersect. The institute serves as an umbrella organization for three centers: the Appalachian Energy Center, Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis (CERPA) and the Southern Appalachian Environmental Research and Education Center (SAEREC). The work supported by RIEEE is integrated into Appalachian’s academic programs, used to facilitate discovery among K-12 student students and teachers, and employed in the region’s economic development. Learn more at

By Sophia Woodall
Jan. 29, 2021

Caroline Fehlman, sophomore and undergraduate research assistant for the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. Photo Submitted.
Published: Jan 29, 2021 5:25pm