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Engineer joins Environment Program to look for equitable solutions


Almost two years after leaving Detroit for a job overseas, Kely Markley returned to the area to do work centered in equitable climate resilience. Through a graduate fellowship with The Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program, she’s getting exposure to what that work looks like this summer through a philanthropy standpoint.   

Markley is a graduate student at the University of Michigan in the School of Natural Resources and Environment in Ann Arbor. The 27-year-old said too often environment work excludes low-income and communities of color, which can create barriers to advancing innovative solutions. She first heard about the foundation during her first stint in Detroit, from their artist grants.

Kely Markley is an intern with The Kresge Foundation's Environment Program this summer.

Kely Markley is an intern with The Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program this summer.

During her 10-week internship, Markley has worked on a variety of projects across the Environment Program. She has researched best practices for tracking and offsetting carbon emissions at philanthropic institutions and is creating a grantee survey to inform the development of a support system for Kresge grantees to build competence in and commitment to racial equity. Additionally, Markley is learning the grantmaking process by reviewing grant proposals and helping the team write grant recommendations.  

Shamar Bibbins, a program officer in the Environment Program, said Markley’s interest in urban resilience and advancing equitable solutions to help cities address climate change, made her a good fit for the position.

“Kely’s urban energy justice research at the University of Michigan was compelling,” Bibbins said. “Her interest in understanding the disparities low-income populations face in accessing energy aligns with how our program approaches its work.”

A native of Peoria, Illinois, Markley received her undergraduate degree in 2012 from the University of Mississippi where she studied engineering. Soon after, Marley returned to the Midwest to teach high school math in Detroit through Teach For America. She spent two years with TFA, then left the country to work for Volkswagen in Berlin, Germany, where she worked on safety monitors for electric ion batteries.

She enjoyed her experience and was able to learn German while living abroad, but Detroit had become her home.  

“I was always interested in Detroit, to me it was the more interesting city compared to Chicago,” Markley said. “Partially because of the auto industry, the history, but mostly when I came here I felt a lot more at home than I have in other places.”

Markley said she’s never had work experience with a foundation before, was at first skeptical of private entities making funding decisions that have the power to drastically change neighborhoods. Since working with and learning from Kresge staff, however she appreciates their careful approach focused on creating equitable solutions for people at the heart of every decision.

“They think about the consequences, how can we support organizations and those who are at the community level,” Markley said. “They’re really trying to help people who need it, so I really admire that.”