Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development alumni have gone on to careers in academia, NGOs, government agencies, and the private sector. In honor of the CESD program’s twentieth anniversary, we’re checking in with some of them to find out what they’re up to now and how the program has influenced them.
What is your current job title and what do you do?
I am currently a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. My primary backstop is environment. I just finished a year in Afghanistan managing USAID’s infrastructure (primarily energy) program there and am headed to Washington where I will be the Deputy Director of the Office that manages USAID’s development programs in East Asia.
What has been your career path, from leaving UGA to where you are now?
I received my PhD from the Institute of Ecology in 1997. I returned to Guatemala where I worked as the primary fundraiser and research program manager for a local NGO called Defensores de la Naturaleza. I also began teaching for the Universidad del Valle where I taught two years of undergraduate General Ecology and an Ecology course for graduate students in the Environmental Studies Program. I managed a project of water in the Polochic Valley and mentored four Master’s theses and three Biology Liscenciate theses. I also chaired the board of a startup organic certification organization called Mayacert.
In 1999 I was simultaneously offered a AAAS Science and Policy Fellowship at USAID/Washington and a job as Regional Environment Advisor for USAID in Central America. I chose the latter and worked for USAID conducting environmental impact reviews of USAID development programs in the region. This included the review and inspection of activities ranging from micro-hydro generation, reconstruction programs after Hurricane Mitch and the El Salvador Earthquake, and forestry programs in northern Guatemala.
After two years doing this I joined the U.S. Foreign Service as an Environment Officer on 9/10/2001. My first assignment was Guatemala in 2002. I spent 2 years managing the bilateral environment program and then assumed the additional responsibility of USAID’s Regional Environment Programs for Central America. From there I moved to El Salvador in 2004 where I spent two additional years. I then moved to Washington, DC, where I spent two years as Desk Officer for USAID/Bangladesh and one year as Desk Officer for USAID/Pakistan. I was then offered the job of Regional Environment Team Leader for Central America, from where I provided technical direction and oversight to USAID’s environment programs throughout Latin America, including the Amazon Program and environmental compliance of USAID’s close to $1 billion in development programs in the region.
After this, in 2012 I moved to Ghana to manage USAID’s Regional Environment Program for West Africa. Covering 21 countries, this is USAID’s largest regional environmental program in water, climate change and biodiversity. My office also provided oversight for the environmental compliance of the $1 billion in development activities in the region. Last year I spent in Afghanistan as the Infrastructure Division Chief of USAID’s ongoing $2.4 billion infrastructure development programs.
How did the CESD program impact that journey?
For me, CESD allowed me to have a broad program of study and allowed me to do my research on a cross cutting integrated topic. Ron Carroll encouraged me to write grant proposals early on to do my dissertation work and managing the grant for the project taught me how to get funding, but also how to manage people and programs.
What are some favorite CESD or Odum School (or Institute of Ecology) moments?
I think the best times were had with my friends from around the world, working in Ron Carroll’s lab, at the Institute and at the village of Chilasco where I lived and worked for two years. I really enjoyed having a multidisciplinary committee that spanned several departments at the University. I think the happiest time in my life, despite the hardships, were the days I spent there.
What is the most pressing conservation need you or your organization face and how might we best prepare our CESD students to meet that challenge?
I believe the most pressing conservation need is integrating sustainable practices into all development programs. While the situation is closer to being stabilized and locally led in Latin America, I can’t say the same thing for what I’ve seen in West Africa and Afghanistan, where a deep seated understanding of the importance of environmental systems is largely put on the back burner…for many reasons.
Do you have any general advice you have for CESD students? Any advice regarding job opportunities specifically?
Get out and volunteer and try different things. Network, meet people. Think broadly if you want to work in conservation. Get grassroots experience early in your career. Learn how to do fundraising and write proposals, as this is probably one of the most useful skills you can learn and something you will apply over and over. Become a lifelong learner. Establish a framework to order your ideas.
At USAID the jobs web site posts internal jobs periodically. However, there are also a broad array of Fellowships such as AAAs. There are also collaborative research opportunities where you can leverage your research funds and bring on board and empower local researchers to work in a myriad of development areas. Find out who USAID works with and apply for jobs with these NGO’s and contractors as well. You would be surprised at how much money we put into organizations such as Care, The Nature Conservancy, WWF and many land grant universities.
As far as where to look for jobs….we have a generalized need for qualified development experts in West Africa and countries like Afghanistan. Develop your language skills. Bring your analytical and geospatial analysis capacity with you. It is very much needed in developing world.