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Student Profiles | GEP

Jeanine Finley - GEP

MA GEP Jeanine Finley
HOW I GOT HERE

My academic career began at Howard University where I obtained a B.S. in Biology. However, my passion for natural resource management developed while I was living in the rural village in central Madagascar where I worked as an environmental extension agent in the Peace Corps. The experience provided a unique, first-hand learning opportunity to participate in community-based natural resource management. It also very clearly modeled the intricate mixture of power and politics that determines decision making around natural resources. Upon leaving Peace Corps, I worked for an international NGO in Washington, which helped me cultivate a passion for the water sector and a drive to advance sustainable and equitable solutions in the developing world. 

SINCE COMING TO AU 

Since coming to American University, I’ve focused on developing a theoretical foundation that supports my practical work experience through courses in international development, women and development, water governance, and environmental economics, among many others. The interdisciplinary nature of the program has provided a valuable set of tools that allow students to analyze the complex nature of environmental challenges.  

I’ve carried out research on a range of topics including the politics of transboundary water resources, women’s participation in community-based natural resource management, social safety net programs in Southern Africa, pro-poor water privatization and water quality in the Anacostia watershed. Recently, I had the opportunity to utilize what I’ve learned in GEP while interning at the World Bank in the Office of African Water Resources Management. The program’s connections have also allowed me to spend a semester at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences studying water resource governance, political ecology and ecotoxicology.

WHAT’S NEXT?

After graduating from the GEP program I hope to obtain a fellowship so I can continue to develop my research on civil society participation and the Nile Basin Initiative. I want to contribute to projects and research that advance interdisciplinary approaches in water resources management.

Chad Whatley - NRSD

Chad Whatley
HOW I GOT HERE

I grew up in a small town in northeast Arkansas and graduated from Arkansas State with a B.A. in Spanish and Minors in International Studies, Philosophy, and Political Science. I have always been interested in languages and cultures,and in college I studied in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Spain. After graduation, I knew that I was being called to the field of Environmental Sustainability but I took some time off and tried my hand at different things: working as an English Teacher in South Korea, as a millwright in a steel mill, and as a manager of a city pool. When I discovered the NRSD program, I knew that this was where I belonged.

SINCE COMING TO AU

Coming to American University was one of the best decisions I have ever made. First of all, the AU community is incredibly supportive. Whether you are concerned about air pollution in China or the potential extinction of the elephant, there is someone here who shares your passion and can connect you with other people and organizations in the field. Second, the GEP/NRSD cohort is like a family. We have bonded through our shared classes and passions, but we also get together outside of class. We come from diverse backgrounds and many in my cohort have already secured internships in government, consulting, and non-profit sectors. I am working for two on-campus facilities at AU this semester to help fund my studies. D.C. is the place to be if you're interested in international environmental policy and activism. There is always something going on here, from giant green expos to intimate lectures from prominent environmentalists like Bill McKibben. Being here has been great for me and my development as a student of sustainability, and I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be…except maybe Costa Rica.

WHAT'S NEXT?

I am applying to attend Greenbuild 2013, which is the world’s largest conference dedicated to sustainable design. Then, I am looking forward to returning to Costa Rica and being en la playa this January. I will also be applying for an internship with the U.S. State Department as well as a Boren Fellowship, and learning more about how I can make a positive difference in the world in the hopes of a sustainable future.

Olivia Gilmore - NRSD

MA NRSD Olivia Gilmore

HOW I GOT HERE

I came to the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development program with a background in International Relations, Environmental Science, and Spanish. My professional experience between undergraduate and graduate school was eclectic to say the least. I worked in cross-cultural communications at an immigration law firm, got my hands dirty while teaching in an outdoor classroom at an earth sciences school, and simultaneously coached high school lacrosse and worked as a barista. However, it was while working for a small NGO in rural Indonesia that my perspective on the environmental field matured. Witnessing first-hand the need for a holistic development approach, I realized that in order to do the work I was passionate about I would need to learn more. The NRSD program struck me as a unique degree with which I could combine my wide range of interests.

SINCE COMING TO AU  

In my first semester at SIS, I learned to adopt the mindset of a development practitioner -- to take on the challenge of wearing many hats. I’ve written papers on topics ranging from economic valuations of environmental services to the impacts of conditional cash transfers within community development models. Taking advantage of the Washington D.C. environment, I attended conferences and events at the World Bank, National Geographic Society, and Woodrow Wilson Center while interning for the United Nations Environment Programme. In Costa Rica, I became part of a truly international study body at the University for Peace. It was not uncommon for a Management of Coastal Resources class to be held on a boat amid mangroves and crocodiles; or I might learn about pioneering PES schemes while visiting the forests in Costa Rica where they are implemented. To fulfill the summer internship requirement, I worked in Bolivia and studied biomass measurement for a voluntary carbon market project, gaining technical skills in GIS and improving my Spanish in the process. 

WHAT’S NEXT?  

After returning to Washington, I will finish my studies at AU while interning for the U.S. Department of State within the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. I will also have the opportunity to participate in a graduate practicum that will examine the drivers of development and conflict in the Mekong River Basin, producing a professional output to inform the State Department’s water team. The NRSD program has helped me to find my niche within the complex nexus of environmental conservation and international development.

Virginia Jameson - NRSD

Virginia Jameson
HOW I GOT HERE

Before coming to the NRSD program, I studied Environmental Studies and Sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and worked for several years in agricultural land conservation. During those years I developed an interest in the politics of international environmental issues and governance, but I wasn't sure how to get my foot in the door. I chose the NRSD program primarily for the opportunities it provided, the globally holistic perspective offered, and its affiliation with the United Nations University for Peace.

SINCE COMING TO AU

During my first semester at AU, I had the opportunity to participate in a congressional internship and travel to Doha, Qatar for the UNFCCC's Conference of the Parties 18. I have also had the privilege of studying in small graduate seminars, interacting on a personal level with brilliant professors.

During my second semester, at the University for Peace in Costa Rica, I lived with a Costa Rican family and practiced (and vastly improved) my Spanish. At UPeace I enrolled in unique courses about conservation practice, forestry, and sustainable development.

Last summer, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Cuba as part of an American University course on the environmental and political developments on the island.

This semester, I am continuing my studies at UPeace, as well as interning for the International Affairs Bureau at the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. This internship is enabling me to put into practice my previous experience in agriculture as well as my new knowledge of international governance structures, trade relationships, and global environmental politics.

My participation in this program has been transformative. Not only have I had an amazing opportunity to live abroad in Costa Rica, I have made friends from all over the world, connected with professionals in my field, broadened my perspective on contemporary environmental challenges, and developed new analytical skills.

WHAT'S NEXT?

I continue to consider the possibility of pursuing a doctorate. In the meantime, I hope to find work doing something akin to my current internship, focusing on international environmental affairs and agriculture.

Sarah Howell - GEP

MA GEP Sarah Howell

HOW I GOT HERE

I have always been interested in environmental sustainability and justice issues, ever since I saw the film “Fern Gully” as a small child. Prior to AU, I lived abroad as a science teacher at an international school in Sofia, Bulgaria. There I observed many environmental changes occurring in the name of “modernization and development,” a topic that often led to discussions with my students. Their passion and interest in environmental sustainability and their hope in the prospects of a better future inspired me. My interests in environmental sustainability have centered on issues of organic, local food movements, food sovereignty and the effects that agricultural policy can have on environment. I needed to understand the root causes for some of the imbalances and inequalities that our current food and agriculture system promotes. I wanted to develop the tools to help work towards a better system; thus, I decided to return to graduate school.  

SINCE COMING TO AU

As a student in the GEP program, I have taken courses that have built upon my background in science and teaching and given me new abilities to analyze and communicate issues from a social science perspective. I have been involved with local, urban food initiatives through the Neighborhood Farm Initiative, the DC Field-to-Fork Network and Sustainable DC Food working group efforts in 2012. I also interned with the Bureau of Land Management’s socio-economics program to help develop tools and resources for the Decision Support, Planning and NEPA division. I also spent a semester studying at the Norwegian University for Life Sciences (UMB), outside Oslo, in Ås, Norway. There I took courses in climate change economics; marine, coastal, and aquatic resource management; and conservation and restoration ecology. UMB has strong life sciences and development studies programs; these two aspects integrate very well with my background and work at AU.  

WHAT’S NEXT?

After graduation, I hope to integrate my knowledge and skills of life sciences, agriculture policies, natural resources management, and ecological restoration, whether through working with an organization or advocacy group, or pursuing a PhD. I hope to utilize integrated and ecosystem-based approach, which is needed for moving current policies and practices forward towards increased social and ecological resilience.

Jonathan M. Kittle - GEP

Jonathan M. Kittle
HOW I GOT HERE

I graduated from the University of Delaware in 2008 with a B.A. in History, Minor in Economics. My African history concentration combined with developmental economics coursework, and a study abroad semester in Costa Rica led me toward international development, and eventually to my studies at the School of International Service.

After working on a congressional campaign I joined the Peace Corps as an environmental health volunteer in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, Panamá. My main project was the design and construction of a two-mile long aqueduct providing the indigenous community of Kwite with year-round access to potable water from a source located hours from the community. My shift from international development to environmental policy came from my belief that I can make greater contributions through environmental policy work. The program at SIS was a perfect fit because of the Washington, DC location with its access to movers and shakers, events, and internships; the great faculty and small sized classes; the interdisciplinary approach; and the strong reputation of the School of International Service.

SINCE COMING TO AU

In my first year I completed coursework on environmental politics, climate change policy, environmental economics, post-carbon world transition, energy science and policy, and sustainability communication.

My extra-curricular activities included work for the AU Sustainability Fund, AU Peace Corps Community, Journal of International Service, and Graduate Student Council. In addition, I was nominated to attend the UNFCC COP18 /CMP 8 conference in Doha, Qatar, as an observer for AU. During the spring semester I took Sustainability Communication, taught by Dr. Nisbet of the School of Communication (SOC). It was through this that I found my passion; examining public understanding of science, the relationship between media and the public sphere, and communication strategies related to social movements (e.g. climate movement).

During the summer I worked with Dr. Nisbet as a researcher on projects related to climate change opinion, the media, and policy. Through this relationship I prepared a proposal for my master's thesis, which focuses on the divestment movement and communication strategies used by student groups.

WHAT'S NEXT?

I am applying to PhD programs in communication, including SOC at AU. The GEP program at SIS has provided a solid foundation in environmental policy and allowed me the flexibility to both find and craft my studies around my passions. I hope to continue my scholarship related to climate change opinion analysis and communication strategies next fall.

Adam Jadhav - GEP

GEP MA Adam Jadhav

HOW I GOT HERE

I came to the Global Environmental Politics program with a background as a journalist. My recent work included stories about Rio Tinto’s titanium mine in Madagascar, drought in Kenya and coastal conservation in the Indian Ocean. 

In Madagascar, for example, villagers and activists told tales of the mine ruining fishing grounds, appropriating forest resources and raising inequality in the local economy. At the same time, the company unveiled an ambitious conservation plan to permanently protect or replant swaths of already degraded forests. Both sides were telling versions of the truth; I realized my journalism could only scratch the surface of development challenges that at once implicate ecology and politics across the globe. 

I needed more schooling. At the time, I couldn't even tell you what political economy or political ecology was. I had never heard of the Tragedy of the Commons, the Limits to Growth or the Colonial Division of Labor. I didn't know Malthus from Ostrom. 

SINCE COMING TO AU 

At AU, I've been continually challenged (in a good way) by professors and classmates to develop new lenses for understanding the local and the global. I've studied deforestation, Hindu ecology, fisheries economics, regression analysis and even GIS mapping. I've written papers on topics ranging from community-based natural resource management to global trade flows. 

My time at AU certainly hasn't been confined to the classroom. I've been arrested in environmental protest in front of the White House. I helped organize dozens of renewable energy petition drives for Oceana. Working for Greenpeace India, I researched and produced an atlas of Indian Ocean conservation metrics that called on India to create new marine management plans in more than a dozen potential biodiversity hotspots. 

WHAT’S NEXT?

After graduation, I will return to India for additional independent research focused in political ecology and local environmental practice/relations. This will ultimately build to a Ph.D. and long-term research/academic career that has started here at AU. 

Today I see the politics of the global environment with new eyes. The challenges are no less complex; AU has simply prepared me to help tackle them.

Alyssa Viars - GEP

Alyssa Viars
HOW I GOT HERE

I came to AU’s School of International Service fresh out of my undergraduate studies at James Madison University, where I earned a B.A. in International Affairs and minored in Spanish and Humanitarian Affairs. After graduating, I wanted to develop my passion for environmental stewardship, cultivated on countless hiking adventures, canoe rides, camping trips, and river clean-ups. I came to AU’s GEP program hoping to expand my interest in international and humanitarian issues and turn my personal passion into a career.

SINCE COMING TO AU

Since coming to AU, I have had the opportunity to learn with, and from, truly exceptional professors and classmates. I have improved my research skills and knowledge of GIS, and taken advantage of the perks of attending school in DC, including limitless lectures and guest speakers, conferences, visits to DC-based organizations, and volunteer opportunities. Using my interest in water issues and land conservation as a springboard, I discovered my interest in food and agriculture issues early in the program. Since then, these topics have taken me to pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, corner stores in Center City Philadelphia, non-profit advocacy organizations in DC, and urban farms in Northern Virginia. I spent a semester in Costa Rica at UPEACE with the NRSD program taking in the culture, learning, and conducting field visits. Back in the U.S., I spent my summer working for the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative in Philadelphia and the fall grassroots organizing with the Center for Science in the Public Interest for Food Day 2013.

WHAT’S NEXT

Nearing the end of my two years in the GEP program, I am excited to embark upon my capstone experience. I look forward to applying what I have gained at American and UPEACE to a career contributing to local and sustainable food systems and agricultural policy. I hope to continue learning about the nexus between food and agriculture, policy, and environmental conservation. And of course, I look forward to reflecting on my time at AU and UPEACE for years to come!

Katy Lackey - NRSD

MA NRSD Katy Lackey
HOW I GOT HERE

My passion for traveling, extensive work with health and homeless populations in the U.S. and undergraduate studies in psychology, religion and anthropology landed me with World Camp Inc, a small NGO. I spent the better part of 4 years between Malawi and India: other coordinators and I ran HIV workshops, tree-planting initiatives, gender empowerment groups, community outreach projects and volunteer programs in rural and urban settings. 

What struck me was how absolutely intertwined energy, health and general well being are in our surroundings, both in positive and negative ways. How Malawi’s massive deforestation rate exacerbated the spread of HIV. How access to clean water shaped gender roles and relations in India. 

But mostly what I saw was the changing environment, and, coupled with poor resource management, the devastatingly continual impact this had on my friends, students and co-workers. How the effects of droughts in Malawi and monsoon flooding in India rippled through every fabric of society. I saw similar impacts from both severe water scarcity or excess water: contamination, disease, failed crops, stressed families. I began to understand that while I love working at the community level, in order to truly be effective, I must also work to bridge the dangerous gaps that persist between communities and the policies that govern them.  

SINCE COMING TO AU

I’ve been learning like crazy! Attending intellectually stimulating classes through discussions, peer insights, professors’ experiences, interesting readings and field trips. For the past 8 months I’ve interned with a team of auditors, GIS specialists, economists, lawyers, biologists, toxicologists and chemists to assess water quality allocation for different users -- agriculture, industry, household, recreation, environment -- in Costa Rica. 

WHAT’S NEXT?

I hope to first spend a few years working with water management and climate change at the municipal level. Then I plan to take that experience, my degrees and all the motivation this program has given me to work on water rights and allocation in communities at high-risk for natural disaster and/or conflict.

 

Kristine Smith - GEP

HOW I GOT HERE

I received a B.A. in International Relations and Global Business from the University of Southern California in 2011. After working in project management at an international market research and consulting company, I decided to go back to school. I was attracted to AU’s Global Environmental Politics program due to the interdisciplinary nature, the emphasis on social justice, and the University’s own commitment to sustainability.

SINCE COMING TO AU

Since coming to American University, I have greatly expanded my knowledge and analytical thinking skills through courses such as Water Governance, Environmental Peacebuilding Across Borders, and Environment and Politics. I am looking forward to taking courses in environmental economics, data analysis, and environmental science. This semester, I am focusing on water management issues. I hope to learn more about integrating water and energy management. I have also begun an internship with the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Energy Resources, where I have been able to directly apply the skills I have learned at AU to real-life examples.

What I appreciate most about American University is the supportive and participatory academic environment. The administration caters to the needs of students. The professors are always available for counseling and truly care about your success at AU and beyond. The familial environment at AU nurtures students into knowledgeable, well-rounded, future global leaders.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Professionally, I hope to address urgent global environmental issues. Upon graduation, I hope to earn a fellowship allowing me to complete extensive field research. Upon completion of the fellowship, I plan on working full-time at an intergovernmental organization such as the United Nations Environment Programme, at a U.S. Government organization such as the Department of State, or an NGO or think tank. I know that my education at American University will prepare me for a diverse array of career opportunities.

Stephen Tolpinrud - NRSD

HOW I GOT HERE

I received a B.A. in Environmental Science from the University of Utah. While obtaining my undergraduate degree I studied in Costa Rica, where I examined the benefits of the country’s wildly successful reforestation program: Payment for Environmental Services. I then enrolled in an agroecology program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I lived on the school’s diversified organic farm and learned about creating a more socially just and sustainable agricultural sector. I put these ideals into practice by riding a bicycle across the United States to fundraise for the construction of a greenhouse in Nicaragua, which I was able to construct with the help of a non-profit.

These diverse experiences solidified my desire to work in environmental sustainability and the creation of a more equitable and sustainable food system. However, I believed that I still lacked the necessary skills to be an effective advocate and practitioner. Enrolling at AU, with the quality of professorship, diverse student community, and dual-degree program that aligned with my interests, is allowing me to achieve these goals.

SINCE COMING TO AU

Since arriving in Washington, D.C., I have been surrounded by intelligent and interesting individuals. My cohort is as diverse and varied as the disciplines we study. My professors are amiable and approachable, and as experts in their fields of study, they lead engaging and intellectually stimulating classes.

The opportunities for growth at AU have been unparalleled. I have read seminal works in the field of evolutionary biology, listened to a Tibetan monk explain the importance of forgiveness, and attended a discussion with a Kenyan elephant activist. Along the way, I am certain I have gained life-long friendships.

WHAT’S NEXT?

With a dual-degree in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, I want to work on the creation of more sustainable society. I plan to do this through assisting in the implementation of sustainable farming practices, especially in ecologically sensitive areas such as the tropical regions of Central America.

Cameron Harsh - NRSD

MA NRSD Cameron Harsh

HOW I GOT HERE

When I came to American University, I had been working in various positions related to urban and rural agriculture in Washington state, including apprenticing on a small organic farm and developing urban gardening programs in marginalized communities. Prior to that, I spent time traveling in southeast Asia, living with and learning from rural organic farmers. These opportunities provided me with a deeper knowledge and understanding of some best management practices in sustainable food production and, to a certain extent, distribution. I decided to apply to the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development program because I wanted to continue researching and interacting with food systems at all levels and, in particular, gain greater understanding of the wide field that is “sustainable agriculture” and global food policy. The NRSD program also provided an opportunity to continue gaining experience working and living outside the United States.

SINCE COMING TO AU

Professors at AU have challenged me to engage and analyze both policy and practice. The NRSD program allows for an incredible amount of flexibility, such that I have had the capacity to focus on food issues within almost every class, yet have also been encouraged to broaden my perspective and recognize the interconnectivity of various issues. The professors and courses during my year at the University for Peace provided me with a unique and valuable graduate experience. The UPEACE year offers students countless opportunities to see classroom learning put into practice, as well the incomparable experience of meeting young professionals from around the world and establishing an invaluable global network. For me, it contributed to an incredible amount of personal and professional growth.

WHAT’S NEXT?

One of the great things about the NRSD program is that the opportunities available to me post-graduation are broad and varied. I can take the skills I’ve learned at AU any where in the world and be a valuable asset to a variety of programs and institutions.

Internships

Learn more about where GEP students work and conduct research.

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