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?
Sofia: I am one of the instructors for the University of California Education Abroad Program (UC-EAP) in Costa Rica. Students come to Monteverde, Costa Rica two semesters a year and receive courses on Tropical Diversity, Tropical Community Ecology, Agroecology, Independent Research and Spanish. I teach the Agroecology course. I also teach Tropical Ecology for another study abroad program from two schools: Mount Holyoke and Goucher Colleges.
What has been your career path, from leaving UGA to where you are now?
Sofia: After graduating from the master’s program in CESD, I worked as the Program Coordinator at the University of Georgia campus in Costa Rica. I was there for a couple of years and then moved to the Costa Rican Conservation Foundation that reforests land on the Pacific slope of Monteverde region, with special emphasis on the Bellbird Biological Corridor. In 2009, I was asked to join the UC-EAP team and a year later I joined the Mt Holyoke-Goucher program.
How did the CESD program impact that journey?
Sofia: The CESD program had a great impact on my journey! If it had not been for the program, I would have not gotten my job at the UGA-Costa Rica campus and would not be where I am now. CESD was key in defining what I wanted to do. I had come from an Agronomy background and my time in the program affirmed for me that I wanted to combine agriculture with ecological principles and conservation efforts, and that is exactly what I do now.
What are some favorite CESD or Odum School (or Institute of Ecology) moments?
Sofia: I loved how the program encompassed so many different areas, in the sense that you had classmates studying water policy, bird conservation, soil aggregates and population growth in India, all under the same roof! I also loved the interaction with other students from the School and how the relationship with professors was so casual, whether it was during First Fridays or during the Spring Fling, the Cook-offs, etc. Great program!
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?
Sofia: Aside from my job, I am on the board of the Monteverde Conservation League. The most pressing need is the lack of money (surprise!) to fund certain aspects of the organization. The Monteverde Conservation League manages the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, the largest private reserve in Costa Rica. This reserve was started by children from all over the world (thus the name) and it is very common that when donors give money now, they want 100% of it to go to land purchase. Nevertheless, we already have more land than we can protect. Our newest policy is that for every dollar they give, 50% goes to land purchase, 40% for maintaining that land protected, and 10% for an endowment fund. Land purchase is still what “sells” in terms of donations, but we are trying to change the culture so that donors know that we need money to not only expand the protected area but to keep it protected in the long-term. How to prepare CESD students? Perhaps with a more applied course on the economics of conservation? Or a course that will prepare them more on the administrative side of things, a.k.a on how money makes things happen and what to do to get it
Did you create the position you are in now and if so, how?
Sofia: Nope, it was offered to me!
Do you have any general advice for CESD students? Any advice regarding job opportunities specifically?
Sofia: I would advise them to soak up every minute of it! It goes by fast! Pay attention in every class and take as many notes as possible and talk to as many students and staff as possible! Hang out at the School all the time and go to all the parties and work hard too! Regarding job opportunities, pay attention to the jobs they post on the listserv, they are useful! And don’t stress out about not getting the ideal job when you first graduate, consider it a stepping stone.
Sofia Arce-Flores and her future husband Justin Welch, MS CESD '06, c. 2006.
Sofia Arce-Flores c. 2014.