Alumna’s passion for environment leads to career at EPA

Hali Kerr says UofSC experience gave her the skills and confidence to succeed

For South Carolina Honors College graduate Hali Kerr, accepting a job offer from the Environmental Protection Agency was easy. She sees her position as an attorney-advisor as more than a job. Through her work on air and radiation law issues, Kerr hopes to have an impact on making our air cleaner.

“Environmental law and policy is an area that puts a fire in my belly, and makes me feel very passionately,” Kerr says. “It gives me life and is an area that drives me.” She sees her position as an attorney-advisor as more than a job.

A career in environmental law and policy can take many forms. Kerr’s responsibility as an EPA attorney in the general counsel’s office primarily involves ensuring the agency is complying with laws and regulations as it conducts its everyday work.

“This is an extremely interesting role,” she says. “If I can make a positive impact even if in a small way, I will be happy.”

Kerr’s desire to work in a field that relies on science has never wavered. Because of the University of South Carolina's marine science program and encouragement from her family who lives in the Columbia area, she could not say no to the opportunity to attend the university.

“I actually only applied to two schools,” Kerr says. “When I visited them, it was an easy choice; I loved the University of South Carolina.”

She came to UofSC knowing what she wanted to do, which is rare for some incoming students. This enhanced her time here and made it much more educational. “UofSC gave me the education, the resources, the content and the experiences to right my ship back in the correct direction to end up in a career that makes me happy,” Kerr says.

Specifically, her time in the Honors College and as a NOAA Hollings and Udall Scholar is where Kerr (2017 marine science) felt she grew most. The Honors College provided her with a space to continue to develop her critical thinking and time management skills.

“Here, I gained all the skills I needed to succeed, especially in law school,” Kerr says.

“I branched out of my normal box and figured out how I learn, what is the best way for me to absorb information, and what makes me tick.”

UofSC is where Kerr decided she wanted change course away from research and toward being a policy writer or lawyer. During her time as an undergrad, Kerr had the opportunity to participate in internships and work with professors, all of which led her to where she is today.

“As a Hollings Scholar, I had the opportunity to intern at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a second time” Kerr says. “Before, I had been at NOAA in the chief of staff’s office in downtown Washington, D.C., for the Washington Semester Program.”

While she was at the NOAA Chesapeake Bay office in downtown Annapolis, she was the only intern, out of dozens of Hollings Scholars, focused on marine policy. For her, seeing how environmental policy can be used in action in the Chesapeake Bay was formative for her.  

Kerr’s favorite times at UofSC, however, were often outside of class. “My time in S.A.G.E. (Students Advocating for a Greener Environment) was really important to me and provided me with leadership and event planning skills that I typically would not learn in a traditional classroom,” Kerr says.

However, her success came with challenges. Mental health is a top priority for Kerr.

“I think everyone needs to take care of their mental health, but I, specifically, have always had some anxiety and during the pandemic, some depression,” she says. “Some of my hardest times mental health wise were in law school and working at a big corporate law firm.

“Getting to the point I am at now was kind of hard. I am trying to focus on taking good care of myself by getting enough sleep, eating well and finding a good work-life balance, as cliché as that sounds,” Kerr says. “The stress, anxiety and depression got to me as some points, but I made it out the other side.”

These challenges did not hold Kerr back. Between her hard work and strong support system, she made a career change to land her in a position that she is excited for.

“At the EPA, I am working on an area that is fulfilling and that I have always been passionate about” Kerr says. “It is much easier to work hard and stay motivated now because I am working toward something I care so much about.”

National Fellowships and Scholar Programs

Students seeking national scholarships such as the NOAA Hollings or Udall are assisted by the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs. 

For more information, visit the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs website or call 803-777-0958.

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