How do we change the minds of decision-makers? Caroline Merner has been tackling this question for years as an environmental advocate. She’s now ready to advance her work to the next level through the Max Bell School’s intensive Master of Public Policy program.
Caroline is also part of the first intake of McCall MacBain Scholars, a selective flagship graduate scholarship that enables students to pursue a fully funded master’s or professional degree while connecting with mentors and participating in an intensive leadership development program.
We sat down with her to find out more about her path to the Max Bell School and hear her tips for aspiring McCall MacBain Scholars.
A deep commitment to climate action
A native of British Columbia, Merner earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and International Development from Dalhousie University, writing her honours thesis on the psychology of effective climate change communication.
After finishing her undergraduate studies, Merner completed a Social Innovation Fellowship at Simon Fraser University and has since worked for a number of environmental organisations—most recently the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.
In 2019, Merner helped launch Youth4Nature, an initiative aimed at bridging the youth movements in the climate and biodiversity crises. “Climate action, for me, is not just about the environmental side and the impacts on the planet, but it’s also about the connection to people. Climate change disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, and young people. In the stories we tell at Youth4Nature, we see that marginalized young people are going to bear the weight of the climate crisis.” Since its launch, Youth4Nature has grown to a network of over almost 10,000 young people.
The next steps in Merner’s journey
With this string of impressive ventures under her belt, Merner decided she wanted to return to school to study public policy. “My experience in my early career—starting a youth-led non-profit and then working in the climate policy engagement space—made me realize that a solid foundation in policy-making is very important.”
Why study at the Max Bell School? “What I want to get out of an MPP program is a stronger understanding of how to influence policy and how to become a better advocate for current and future generations,” explained Merner.
The interdisciplinary focus of the Max Bell School MPP was attractive to her, as she isn’t certain exactly what type of role she’d like to end up playing in the climate action space. “I’m trying to identify whether I want to be more in decision-making positions in government or whether I want to be more in the advocacy space with environmental NGOs, lobbying for change.”
Living in Montreal also holds a strong appeal for Merner, who speaks French but has lacked the opportunity to fully immerse herself in the language. “I’m really looking forward to being in Montreal, to living for the first time in a Francophone community.”
A warm welcome
Chris Ragan, director of the Max Bell School is excited to have a McCall MacBain Scholar join the School’s next class of MPP candidates.
“The inaugural recipients of the McCall MacBain Scholarship comprise Canada’s most intellectually curious and community driven young leaders,” said Ragan. “We at the Max Bell School are proud to count Caroline as part of our exceptional third cohort of MPP students.”
Natasha Sawh, Dean of the McCall MacBain Scholarships and a member of the Max Bell School of Public Policy’s Advisory Board, also shared warm words of welcome.
“We’re delighted that Caroline Merner will be among our 20 inaugural McCall MacBain Scholars. Caroline has demonstrated empathy, integrity, and a track record of empowering youth to address climate change. We look forward to seeing her continue to strengthen her leadership skills as a McCall MacBain Scholar in the MPP program.”
Merner’s advice to prospective McCall MacBain Scholars
What advice does Merner have for potential applicants?
“It’s normal to have imposter syndrome, and it’s normal to doubt what skills to showcase. But my tip is to tell your story, what sets you apart, and what brings you to want to study in a master’s program. For me, it was about sharing my journey in getting here and the non-linear path I’ve taken. Just be open about your journey, and I think it will go well.”