More than 150 people, including alumni, students, faculty and friends, gathered at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology in October for a symposium marking the twentieth anniversary of the school’s Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development graduate program.
The CESD graduate program was established to meet the growing need for researchers and decision makers prepared to address the world’s increasingly complex environmental challenges. It combines interdisciplinary course work with hand-on experience and thesis research. More than 125 graduate students have received master’s degrees and another 120 have received CESD certificates.
The symposium, “Looking Toward the Future of Conservation,” showcased the diversity of career paths pursued by CESD alumni and highlighted the program’s global impact. Thirteen alumni speakers shared their experiences, offered advice for current students and discussed emerging issues and training needs in conservation in a series of talks and panel discussions.
“It was exciting to see so many of our alumni back on campus,” said Cathy Pringle, Distinguished Research Professor and chair of the CESD program. “Over one fifth of our graduates attended, and their success in so many different areas of conservation is staggering.”
Anne Dix, who received her doctorate in ecology in 1997, gave the opening keynote address, “Lessons Learned, Opportunities and Challenges in Development Practice.” Dix, whose career with the U.S. Agency for International Development has taken her all over the world, is currently deputy director of US AID’s development programs in East Asia.
“I’m here because I’m a big advocate of this program,” she said. “It’s something that I really have tried to emulate wherever I’ve gone.”
Speakers outlined how the training they received here had prepared them for careers in federal and state agencies, NGOs, academia, and the corporate world. Many emphasized that the combination of science and policy makes the CESD program both unusual and important.
“Having this background helps so much,” said Sarah Barmeyer, who received her master’s in 2006 and is now the Director of Conservation Programs for the National Parks Conservation Association “I was very surprised to find that I was one of the only people who had any form of conservation ecology or science background when I first started at my organization. It really helps in making decisions when you can factor in what makes sense from an ecological perspective.”
Diane Sanzone, senior manager for major projects at the multinational consulting giant AECOM,
who received both a CESD master’s degree and a doctorate in ecology from UGA, stressed the importance of the program’s interdisciplinary approach. She also urged students to consider careers with the large corporations that impact the environment.
“More ecologists need to work on the inside,” she said. “Decisions need to be based on sound science, not opinion. People in this room that are trained in science need to get out there and sit in boardrooms.”
Besides the talks and panel discussions, the symposium included a Conservation Careers “Speed Dating” session, which allowed current students to network with alumni and learn about internships and jobs with their organizations.
The event concluded with a session on how the program could evolve to better prepare graduates to address emerging conservation challenges and opportunities. Alumni identified critical real-world conservation issues and ways to tackle them, with concrete suggestions including new courses, skills training, internships, and an alumni mentoring program.
“This gathering has been enormously helpful,” said CESD faculty member Laurie Fowler. “What we’ve learned is not going to sit on a shelf. It’s going to show up in our classes starting in January.”
The symposium was supported in part by the President's Venture Fund through the generous gifts of the University of Georgia Partners, by the Odum School of Ecology, and by the UGA Alumni Association.
For more information about the CESD graduate program: M.S. Conservation Ecology.