Cohort 10 (2019-2021)
Name: Amira Mousa Hussein
Hometown: Cairo, Egypt
Education: BS in Civil Engineering- Public Works section, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt
Experience: Amira joins the MDP program at the University of Florida as a Fulbright Scholar. Amira is pursuing her Master’s degree after extensive experience in both the construction and the development sectors. She hopes to integrate the skills she has developed through her professional career in project management, with her experience in and passion for international development, and youth empowerment. Amira had the opportunity to work on public water and sanitation projects at many levels—from sharing responsibility for projects in the MENA region in one of the world’s top 100 engineering firms, to volunteering to help provide access to clean drinking water in slums and villages in Egypt, Uganda, and Niger. While working with ECG engineering consulting firm, Amira participated in providing two million inhabitants a clean environment by means of safe wastewater disposal through managing the civil design contract of the largest wastewater treatment plant in Africa and the Middle East; “Stage II Phase II of Al Gabal AlAsfar Wastewater Treatment Plant”.
Her interest to serve underprivileged communities in Africa and the Middle East led her to tackle a range of issues from water to social entrepreneurship and capacity building. As part of the UNHCR Egypt Program for “Empowering Refugees’ Community Centers in Egypt”, she trained Refugees on social innovation and planning for small-scale ventures. Later, in Uganda, she trained Ugandan educators on integrating question formulation techniques in a classroom setting. In the future, Amira hopes to work with government and non-governmental agencies on water projects execution and social entrepreneurship to ensure sustainable development and youth empowerment in Africa and the Middle East.
Interests: Social entrepreneurship, project management, innovation, water resources, education, sustainability, youth empowerment, capacity building, travel, music, yoga, and swimming.
Name: Ange Asanzi
Hometown: Pretoria, South Africa
Education: BA in Commerce, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, South Africa; MA in Economics, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Experience: In 2014, Ange joined the NGO International Rivers where she worked with dam-affected communities and advocated for free and flowing rivers. The experience at International Rivers helped foster a commitment to ending destructive river projects and strengthening grassroots movements, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), her country of origin. The Congo River and its people lie at the heart of Ange’s passion. She believes with firm conviction in a transformative model of development in favor of local communities, which enables communities to empower themselves to better determine their destiny. During her professional life, Ange has worked closely with Civil Society Organizations, African governments and regional institutions. She has conducted research campaigns on energy infrastructure projects, women’s rights and freshwater ecosystems. In 2015, she contributed to the report “Right Priorities for the Power Sector”, an evaluation of dams under the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). She is fluent in English, French and Portuguese. In her spare time, Ange actively supports women’s movements on climate justice in the DRC. Ange’s long-term goal and desire is to positively contribute towards the existing body of research on natural resource conservation and management.
Interests: Natural resource management, river conservation, community-based conservation, freshwater ecosystems, climate justice, movement building, water diplomacy, women’s empowerment and policy.
Name: Brenda Lugano
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida (Originally from Mombasa, Kenya)
Education: B.S. in Landscape Architecture, University of Florida
Experience: Brenda’s passion for sustainability stems from her upbringing in Nairobi, Kenya. Her major interest as an undergraduate was in urban planning and park design. She conducted research for Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) concerning the Plaza of the Americas located on UF campus and its historical landscaping. Her research on the plaza can now be found in the Library of Congress. Her undergraduate Capstone project focused on the lack of social amenities and proper development plans in the slum areas of Mukuru in Nairobi, Kenya. She utilized her studies to design new amenities for the community and a safer transportation corridor. After her studies she worked with two firms in Gainesville, Florida that expanded her knowledge on residential, commercial and park design. She was fortunate to be a part of designing Depot Park which is located in downtown Gainesville. Brenda further exercised her love for landscaping as an intern with the City Beautification Board of Gainesville which is in charge of acknowledging and rewarding new developments and parks with beautifying the city. In recent years she has been a part of a non-profit organization based in the U.S. whose purpose is to expand the knowledge of systems thinking and empower youth. Her fluency in Swahili has enabled her to be an active participant in the African Foreign Language Initiative (AFLI) program hosted at the University of Florida every summer. She hopes to pursue future research on the Kenyan coast and examine how new development impacts a community, its environment, and methods of how to mitigate those challenges.
Interests: urban planning, ecology, sustainable planning, historical preservation, youth empowerment, singing, ceramics and pottery, painting, and traveling.
Name: Caroline Baylor
Hometown: Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Education: BS in Environmental Sciences, Minors in Geography and Hindi-Urdu, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Experience: Caroline was fortunate enough during university to study abroad in India, where her interests in traveling and learning about different cultures and ways of thinking were amplified. Upon finishing her undergraduate studies, she left for Ecuador in 2011 to work for the United States Peace Corps where she spent the first two and half years working in a small coastal town near Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas. She and her counterpart Paola collaborated on environmental education classes for students in a local school and also started a recycling project wherein the students would bring in recyclable materials which were sold to a recycling company for added income to the school. Caroline then moved to the Ecuadorian highlands to the city of Loja for a year to fill the role of Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, where she oversaw Peace Corps volunteers in the Southern Region, running meetings and aiding projects. A few years later, she would go to Chitré, Panamá as an Environmental Specialist with the Peace Corps, working for a year with Fundación Ideas Maestras, a local foundation dedicated to environmental education as well as entrepreneurship. She and her counterpart Isibel worked mainly on waste management, bringing a recycling competition to a local high school of 2000 students. The project also promoted volunteerism and youth leadership by incorporating local college students to aid with the recycling events and environmental education classes. When she is not abroad, Caroline enjoys attending trash clean-up events, hiking, playing clarinet with the local community band, and volunteering with a group dedicated to providing assistance to traveling asylum seekers.
Interests: Anything and everything environmental (especially waste management), immigration matters, geography, culture, languages (especially Spanish and Hindi), hiking, running, dancing, music, cooking.
Name: Juan Mateo Anhalzer
Hometown: Quito, Ecuador
Education: BA in Political Science and Sustainability Studies, University of Florida
Experience: Juan’s upbringing as a settler in both Ecuador and the united states has left him with a deep-seated sense of duty to take a side with the global majority against the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system which impoverishes the majority of the planet and is pushing us towards extinction. His thus far very humble and limited contribution to this process has been in anti-racist and anti-colonial movements in his adopted hometown of Gainesville (located on Seminole and Timucua land) against prison slavery, a rising far-right, and for the rights of migrants to move freely across colonial borders. He has also worked at Mosswood Farms, an organic agricultural operation located in Micanopy (also on Seminole and Timucua land). Juan sees the restoration of Indigenous sovereignty over land and the adoption of Indigenous and peasant modes of food production as key to not only mitigating but adapting to catastrophic climate change. His future plans include, in the short term, working under the leadership of the Coalition of Imokalee Workers in the intersection of agricultural justice and migrant justice. In the long-term, he plans a return to the land of his birth to work under the leadership of grassroots peasant, Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and labor organizations to struggle for land rights and self-determination for oppressed peoples.
Interests: Decoloniality, (settler-)colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, food sovereignty, degrowth, extractivism, North-South relations, revolutionary movements, labor organizing, world-systems theory, languages.
Name: Madison Smith
Hometown: Naples, Florida
Education: BA in Sustainability Studies, Minor in Communication, University of Florida
Experience: During her time as an undergraduate student, Madison found a passion for education and student engagement, having the opportunity to serve as a Preview Staffer for incoming students and as Agency Head of Gators Going Green, a Student Government branch focused on developing campus sustainability initiatives. Additionally, Madison worked as an intern for the UF Office of Sustainability, helping to coordinate campus events such as the Tailgator Gameday Recycling Program, Green and Clean events, and Campus Earth Week. Her mission is to develop world-wide sustainable initiatives and cultivate cultural change by utilizing her strong communication and creativity skills and her passion for enhancing the quality of life for all.
Interests: environmental education and awareness, social and environmental justice, communication and outreach, community engagement, sustainable living, ocean conservation, scuba diving, house plants, travel.
Name: Mary Catherine Hart (Catherine)
Hometown: Bel Air, Maryland
Education: BS in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of North Florida
Experience: Catherine has a passion for health, wellness, and sustainable living. Although she was originally interested in clinical dietetics, she discovered a love for community nutrition while pursuing her BS. She volunteered with organizations like The Bridge of Northeast Florida and Gateway Community Services to provide underserved communities with nutrition education and garden support. This working education equipped her with the skills needed to join the UF/IFAS Family Nutrition Program, where she is currently the Public Health Specialist for Northeast Florida. It is a USDA grant-funded organization whose mission is to provide SNAP-eligible residents of Florida with both nutrition education and support for policy, systems, and environmental changes. Catherine focuses on food access, trends in nutritional behavior, and childhood nutrition. Her current projects include building CSA programs with local farmers to allow their clients to pay with EBT and assisting food pantries to become more client-choice based. In the future, she hopes to continue her work of supporting strong communities by incorporating climate change adaptation and sustainable economic growth into future program development.
Interests: nutrition, physical activity, food security, self-efficacy, food access, climate change adaptation, sustainability, local procurement, food preservation, wasted food, agriculture, behavioral economics.
Name: Maurine Andia Akifuma (Andia)
Hometown: Kitale, Kenya
Education: BSc. in Economics and Finance
Experience: Immediately after completing her coursework at Kenyatta university Andia joined Population Service Kenya (PSK) as an educator on a project titled Kitu ni kukachora where she taught high school and college students about sexual reproductive health. This is where she started her professional journey and interest on matters to do with sustainable development. She later joined Sense International, Kenya as a researcher on a project in Nairobi, Kenya where she helped to identify children with sensory impairments and thereafter give them the corresponding healthcare intervention. Andia has participated in several microfinance activities with various women’s groups in her hometown and hopes to gain the academic knowledge to help them to be more sustainable and to develop one another and empower more women.
Andia is a soprano singer performing with several groups in Kenya and in Gainesville. She is a lover of microfinance activities—something she has participated in for several years with her mom’s guidance. She is fluent in both Swahili and English but still a French Student.
Interests: women’s empowerment, microfinance and global health.
Name: Muhammed Malik
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Education: BA in Interdisciplinary Studies and Religious Studies with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Psychology; BA in International Relations with certificates in Global Black Studies and South/Southeast Asian Regional Studies, Florida International University, Miami, Florida. Certificate in Critical Muslim Studies (Decolonial Theory and Liberation Theologies), Centro de Estudios para el Diálogo Mediterráneo, Granada, Spain.
Experience: Muhammed Muhammed Malik is a U.S.-based intersectional movement organizer, communications consultant, and grassroots educator. Born and raised in Miami with roots in Kashmir, Muhammed leverages 15 years of leadership experience in labor unions, international solidarity, human rights, political party building, and student activism to mentor emerging leaders who are directly impacted by poverty, racism, state violence, and climate change. In the recent past, he served as Statewide Director of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (comprising 70+ local, state, and national organizations), Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-South Florida), Communications Director at Service Employees International Union (SEIU – Florida), and Racial Justice/Voting Rights Coordinator at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU – Florida), among other roles. Parallel to these roles, Muhammed amplified grassroots voices through alternative media as Co-Producer of “Let’s Talk About It” Radio (880am) while maintaining an active role connecting alternative political institutions and movements transnationally. After being elected Co-Chair of the Miami-Dade Green Party, he was elected to serve multiple terms as Florida Delegate to the International Affairs Committee of the Green Party (U.S.), culminating in his more recent service as a U.S. delegate to the Federación de Partidos Verdes de las Américas and U.S. Representative to the Global Greens Network. A past Board Member of South Florida Interfaith Workers Justice, FIU’s RISEP (Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy) and the City of North Miami Beach’s Multicultural Affairs Committee, he was the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the national AMCLI (American Muslim Civic Leadership Initiative), and served as a recruitment scout for DART (Direct Action Research Training), a national organization that identifies trains and hires organizers to serve in faith communities across the nation. Co-Founder of Muslims for Ferguson, the Justice for Israel Hernandez Committee, and the Miami Committee on State Violence, he served on Amnesty International USA’s 13-member human rights delegation dispatched to Ferguson to monitor police misconduct during the State of Missouri’s declaration of a state of emergency; later serving as a U.S. delegate, along with indigenous grassroots leaders and leaders from Black Lives Matter, on Interfaith Peace Builder’s “People of Color” delegation to Palestine.
During his time at FIU, Muhammed completed Honors College coursework, was elected to Student Government, served as Site-Leader for Alternative Spring Break, co-founded an anti-war organization and a student coalition in solidarity with Center for Pan African Development’s Take Back the Land project, was selected by Harvard Divinity School to participate in its annual “DivX” (Diversity Explorations) program, and was inducted into a number of academic honors societies including Theta Alpha Kappa and Golden Key International Honors Society.
Interests: social movements, collective action, political ecology, resistance to extractive industries, heterodox economics, contentious politics, populism, liberation theology, ecological spiritualities; intersections of race, gender and class.
Name: Nikki Picon
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Education: BS in Plant Science, University of Florida
Experience: Driven by deep curiosity and respect for the people and places experienced, primarily with smallholder farmers, Nikki is interested in how and why rural people make livelihood decisions. While her past field work has mainly focused on the tropics and draws from an interdisciplinary background in the quantitative social and natural sciences, she is interested in integrated interventions that work with agriculture, nutrition, and related systems. Most recently, Nikki has worked at a global demonstration farm, ECHO, where she researched and implemented projects that considered the needs of resource-limited small scale farmers with the aim to trial best agricultural practices. Additionally, she has conducted agroecology research at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida where she has worked alongside natural scientists to survey farmers and community members to assess the local food landscape and create a needs assessment. Her long-term goal is to become a research-practitioner, implementing evidence-based interventions and community outreach in a relevant manner to sustain and support positive health and overall livelihoods for communities.
Interests: Food security, livelihoods, global public health, nutrition, conservation, sustainable agriculture, human behavior.
Name: Raine Donohue
Hometown: Helena, Montana
Education: BA in International Studies, minor in Environmental Studies, Seattle University
Experience: Stemming from a profound appreciation for the outdoors and an interest in other cultures, Raine dedicates her time to help create socially and environmentally responsible development initiatives. She has spent the past five years working for a non-profit organization that provides assistance to small-holder farmers in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The organization collaborates with local partners to create sustainable community enterprises based on local agricultural production. Her experience ranges from managing Fair Trade and Organic Certification practices, facilitating community workshops, and implementing reforestation projects, to financial reporting and project evaluation. Her experience has furthered her interest in sustainability and how local economies can change when farmers are empowered to use the knowledge they have, along with improved technical assistance and access to international markets. Not only can this help diversify and improve livelihoods, but it can also play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Raine hopes to continue working with stakeholders in Latin America to improve local livelihoods and find new solutions to climate change.
Interests: sustainability, value-added agricultural supply chains, product certifications, livelihood diversification, natural resource conservation, climate change mitigation.
Name: Sarah Strohminger
Hometown: Hastings, Florida
Education: BA in Liberal Arts with concentrations in Political Science, Economics and Philosophy; Minor in Environmental Science, Flagler College
Experience: Sarah studied many different areas while earning her Bachelor’s, but her curriculum surrounded the concepts of environmental sustainability, food security, and social justice. Growing up in a small farming community, Sarah was exposed to the paradox of rural food deserts early on. She volunteered with many non-proﬁt organizations such as the Farm to Family Mobile Farmer’s Market, the Betty Grifﬁn Center and the St. Johns County Homeless Coalition throughout her adolescence. She originally planned to study law but after certain exposures in college, Sarah switched her path to focus on the many aspects of food justice. After graduating, Sarah joined FoodCorps, where she gained the opportunity to be a garden and nutrition advocate at a native Hawaiian school. Upon returning to Florida, she took on the role of campaign manager for a local politician running for the Florida House of Representatives.
Interests: Food security, community gardening, politics, international economics, international ﬁnancial institutions, local agriculture, traveling, self sufﬁciency, place-based environmental education.
Name: Yeyetsi F. Maldonado Caballero
Hometown: Morelia, Mexico
Education: BA in Biology, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo, Morelia, Mexico; MS in Natural Resources Management, Xalapa, Mexico
Experience: During the Bachelor program, Yeyetsi worked with the taxonomy of fungi. This experience started her interest in mushrooms as an alternative source of nutrition and income for rural communities. For her Masters, she worked with wild edible mushrooms in a Christmas tree plantation. Parallel to her academic career, she worked at an ecological park as an environmental guide. She developed different types of activities including environmental interpretation tours, talks about echo techniques, team building activities, and environmental awareness talks. This park hosted groups of different ages and school levels (kindergarten to college). Yeyetsi has participated and organized multiple activities in different science dissemination projects such as science fairs and programs to promote interest in science careers among children and young people. Merging her experiences in science dissemination, environmental education and academia, Yeyetsi developed her interest in non-timber forest products and community based management.
Interests: Non-timber forest products, fungi, community-based management, sustainable development, science dissemination, environmental education.
Cohort 9 (2018-2020)
Name: Adi Gangga (Gangga)
Hometown: Juwana, Pati, Central Java, Indonesia.
Education: BS in Forestry, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Experience: Adi Gangga earned his Bachelor of Science in forestry from Gadjah Mada University in 2012. As a forester and field assistant, he conducted forest inventories in montane forests on four mountains in Java Island, Indonesia. After almost two years working in biophysical research, he discovered his new passion to work with local communities. He had an opportunity to work as a consultant with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) studying climate change adaptation, working closely with local communities from different social and cultural backgrounds. He also conducted socioeconomic studies for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Building on his experience working with local communities, he aims to improve his skills in evidence-based research in order to contribute to the betterment of Indonesia’s forestry programs.
Interests: Local communities, sustainability, forestry, forest management, equity, conservation, wildlife, forest commodities, supply chain, food security, capacity building, badminton.
Name: Christina Joy
Hometown: Eustis, Florida.
Education: BA in International Studies with Concentration in Middle East and African Studies, University of North Florida. AS in Paralegal Studies, Daytona State College.
Experience: Christina is the Founder and Director of Joy Moja, a 501(c)(3) organization that supports educational projects in Tanzania. When she founded the organization in 2014, Christina’s vision was to provide impoverished children with the resources and opportunities they needed to pursue an education so that they could effectively contribute to the development of their communities. She has since traveled throughout Tanzania providing educational materials such as desks, books, and supplies to rural schools and purchasing handmade items from the markets to sell in the United States. Christina has coordinated multiple music festivals and organized trunk shows, informational events, presentations, and fundraisers to increase awareness of Tanzania’s culture and raise funds for projects in Tanzania. Prior to her work with Joy Moja, Christina was a paralegal for thirteen years during which time she managed extensive case files, developed and analyzed legal arguments from multiple perspectives, and aspired to become an appellate judge. She spent her spare time working toward an undergraduate degree at the University of North Florida where she was introduced to a broad spectrum of development issues throughout the world. In 2012, she left the United States for the first time to study abroad in Tanzania. Her experience inspired her to change her career path and focus instead on African development.
Interests: Sustainable food production, environmental conservation, education, East Africa, geography, reading, traveling, spending time with pets, raising chickens, backpacking, camping, craft beer, inspiring people to pursue their dreams.
Name: Colleen Abel
Hometown: Lakeland, Florida.
Education: BA in Spanish, Minor in Latin American Studies, Florida Southern College.
Experience: During her undergraduate studies, Colleen was the volunteer coordinator for a monthly legal clinic that provided free legal services to immigrants below the poverty level. During her time with the clinic she served as an interpreter between volunteers and clients, scheduled volunteers, and did community outreach. Colleen’s desire to address the root causes of migration grew as she heard the stories of the clients from the legal clinic. Additionally, Colleen has been involved with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their campaigns to bring Chipotle (joined 2012), Wendy’s, and Publix (ongoing campaigns) to support the farmworkers by joining the Fair Food Program. She has spent time in Guatemala studying Spanish and learning about the culture and history as well as hiking and rock climbing in the mountains. During her time at Eckerd College, Colleen worked in the International Education office helping to plan study abroad trips around the world. Additionally she consulted with several students who had interest in traveling to Guatemala on their own. Colleen wants to work on compassionate immigration reform and with returned migrants reintegrating into their communities after deportation.
Interests: Outdoor adventures, rock climbing, natural resource preservation and access, language acquisition, travel, immigration reform, farmworker justice, social justice, gender equality, women’s empowerment, LGBT+ equality, Latin America, refugees, migration, fair trade, community radio, cooking, and cats.
Name: Gustavo Prieto
Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia.
Education: B.S.E. in Industrial Engineering, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
Experience: While a student at the National University of Colombia, the biggest public university in his country, Gustavo had the opportunity to experience first hand Colombia’s diversity during his undergraduate studies. By bringing together students from every region of the country, this university not only provided the best higher education to Gustavo, but also allowed him to work during his 5-year career with groups from different social and academic backgrounds. Always interested in interdisciplinary work, Gustavo took courses such as Ethnobotany and Project Management, generating a particular interest in the management of sustainable projects, which is why he assumed a T.A. position for the Project Management course where he worked as an advisor for students presenting entrepreneurship projects based on sustainable processes. Upon graduating as an Industrial Engineer, he received a recognition from the Ministry of Education of Colombia for the best score in the country’s professional tests (Saber Pro) and worked as Human Resources Coordinator for the engineering multinational Sodeca Latam, a company specialized in providing engineering solutions in the area of industrial and commercial ventilation. Thanks to this job, Gustavo had the privilege of visiting different regions of the country and learning about infrastructure, production and extraction projects and how they interacted with communities and their territory. Gustavo hopes to acquire valuable experience on sustainability and development issues in this new path of his career.
Interests: Biodiversity conservation, Latin American economic development, Latin American politics, technological management, project management, policy making, systemic thinking, anti-corruption, social justice, music festivals, soccer, video games.
Name: Haaris Saqib
Hometown: College Station, Texas.
Education: BS in Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University.
Experience: As an undergraduate student at Texas A&M University, Haaris worked as a monitoring and evaluation researcher with the Center on Conflict and Development, an international development research center. There, Haaris helped to design evaluation studies for two African development projects including a community irrigation scheme and an improved border post. Haaris traveled to Rwanda on assignment to meet with local stakeholders and develop evaluation strategies. As a senior at Texas A&M, Haaris assembled a team to develop an innovative packaging concept for hydroponically grown foods in the 2017 Biomimicry Challenge.
Interests: Innovation, corporate social responsibility, design for development, food systems, sustainable business systems, travel, biking.
Name: Mackenzie Goode
Hometown: Williston, Florida.
Education: BA in Anthropology, Minor in African Studies, University of Florida.
Experience: Mackenzie’s enthusiasm for sustainable development was largely inspired by her experiences abroad as an undergraduate. Having always been passionate about natural resource preservation and primate ecology, she pursued a degree in anthropology with a focus on biological anthropology and primatology. Mackenzie traveled to Ethiopia in her third year of studies to conduct projects in cultural heritage management and archaeology. She dedicated the next three months to researching chacma baboon behavior in collaboration with Duke University and South African National Parks. It was in South Africa that Mackenzie became acutely aware of the complex—and often negative—relationship between humans and wildlife in areas of Africa, especially where land is increasingly used for agricultural purposes. After graduating, Mackenzie volunteered with Eco-Agric Uganda to learn more about the role of NGOs in engaging communities to develop appropriate, sustainable solutions that benefit both the environment and humans.
Interests: Conservation biology, sustainable agriculture, ecotourism, reforestation, conflict mitigation, rural development, environmental policy, travel, backpacking, hiking, gardening.
Name: Manuel Morales M.
Hometown: Quito, Ecuador.
Education: BSc in Biology, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador.
Experience: Manuel studied Biology in Cuenca, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 2004. For the past twenty years, he has worked in conservation issues, especially related to amphibian and reptile biodiversity, natural resource management, community management, park management and ethno-zoology. Manuel has worked with several NGOs (national and international) addressing these issues in Ecuador, including Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, Fundación EcoCiencia, Fundación Natura, Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés and Fundación Otonga. He has worked as a natural history collections manager at the Catholic Pontifical University of Ecuador, the National Museum of Natural History and the Jambatu Research Center for Amphibian Conservation (his most recent job). Manuel also served as wildlife technician in the Esmeraldas Provincial Government where he implemented conservation plans and served as a wildlife specialist (2004). In 2004-2005, Manuel served as Chair of Environmental Affairs in the Water, Sewage, Environmental Sanitation and Telecommunication Public Enterprise of Cuenca, Ecuador, where he worked in environmental law enforcement and in program implementation for water service management, hazardous waste disposal and environmental education. As part of his responsibilities, he directed El Cajas National Park and 12 other reserves, which together protect the watersheds that provide drinking water for the Cuenca district. As part of his work, Manuel has had the opportunity to travel to several parts of the continent, including Colombia, Peru, Panamá and Costa Rica. Ten years ago, he was at the University of Florida for the first time, as a visiting scholar with TCD analyzing data from fishing and hunting monitoring by local people in Yasuní National Park, a project implemented by Wildlife Conservation Society – Ecuador. From the beginning of his career and on several occasions, including his last job with Fundación Otonga – Centro Jambatu, he has worked on amphibian and reptile research and conservation, particularly inventory and monitoring, rapid assessment programs, ex-situ management, natural history studies and wildlife-people relationships.
Interests: Biodiversity conservation and management, tropical forests, oceans, amphibians, reptiles, park management, watershed management, natural resources, ethno-zoology, wildlife-people conflicts, behavior, environmental education, conservation policies, biking, hiking, mountain climbing, dogs, kids.
Name: Octavio Gómez
Hometown: Sarasota, Florida.
Education: BA in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with cognates in International Affairs and Anthropology, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Experience: Before his undergraduate pursuits, he was involved in various faith-based outreach programs in the Sarasota and Bradenton areas. Among those were Adopt-a-block and Feed my Sheep, which sought to bring food security to disadvantaged communities. He also worked as an intern at Bayside Community Church’s missions department, where he managed budgets and created standard operating procedures for large-scale humanitarian projects. He continued to pursue similar administrative work with Send Me ministries, where he provided vision and direction for global missions projects. There he helped develop training manuals for more sustainable faith-based humanitarian work, and studied the benefits of social capital production in humanitarian work. During his undergraduate studies he led the University of South Florida’s Global Society as that chapter’s president, and was a recipient of the King O’Neil award for academic excellence. He also completed a comparative program evaluation for the Salvation Army of Sarasota and a research study on the social, economic, and religious motivations of faith-based nonprofits.
Interests: International coordination, international resource distribution, sustainable missions, community development, interdisciplinary research, religious studies, ethnography, development economics, needs assessment.
Name: Paula Bak
Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia.
Education: BA in Anthropology with an emphasis on Culture and Power, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana of Bogotá.
Experience: Before starting her undergraduate studies, Paula was a volunteer in a foundation called Techo Colombia. She worked with communities in a neighborhood called Mochuelo, where most of the people arrive from the countryside, to create sustainable projects to strengthen the community. This work continued when Paula started to study anthropology. During her 5 years of undergraduate studies, Paula had the opportunity to travel different places in Colombia and she worked with indigenous peasant communities and afro-descendant peasant communities. During her last two years of studies she dedicated her time to work with a community in Bahía Solano, on the north Pacific coast of Colombia. After graduating, she worked with two different communities in the Chocó to develop food sovereignty projects. She has worked in education as well as research and seeks to create awareness on the environment, culture and sovereignty deportation.
Interests: Food sovereignty, territorial sovereignty, outdoor experience, traveling, women’s empowerment in rural areas, Latin America, dancing, biking, music, animals but especially dogs.
Name: Pierre William Blanc
Hometown: Pétion-Ville, Haiti.
Education: BS in Electronics Engineering, Faculty of Science, State University of Haiti.
Experience: As an Electronical Engineer, Will has an extensive 10-year career in mobile telecommunication. His first contact with the telecommunication industry was an internship in Summer 2007 as a Network Operation Agent in the transit center for international calls at TELECO (the former national landline telephone company in Haiti which became NATCOM in 2011). Three months later, he moved on to his first official job as Customer Care Representative at VOILA (a former mobile communication company in Haiti) for one year. Will was promoted to the Revenue Assurance Analyst position in the Finance department of VOILA where he worked for four years and moved up to become a Senior Revenue Assurance Analyst. In 2012, VOILA was acquired by DIGICEL (a mobile company established in several Caribbean countries), where Will assumed the position of Senior Business Risk Executive for three years. During his work experience in the telecommunications industry in Haiti, he participated in and led Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management workshops in the USA, Jamaica, Panama and Guyana. Will also developed a productive partnership experience on Project Management for two years, with the Telecommunications Regulator in the Republic of Congo and the Police Force in the Republic of Uganda. More recently, in October 2017, Will led a weather station programming workshop for “Appui à la Recherche et au Development Agricole (AREA)”, a USAID-funded “Feed the Future” project in Haiti, which is coordinated by UF-IFAS.
Interests: Telecommunications and technological innovations, sustainable rural development, decentralization and public service administration, mass education, environmental protection, farming, food security and supply chain management, data mining and information management, monitoring and evaluation, human rights and social justice, Haitian creole language and cultures, health, wellness and fitness, spirituality, beach vacations.
Name: Rio Trimono
Hometown: Sumatera, Indonesia
Education: BS in Geography, University of Indonesia.
Experience: Rio was part of a national project aiming to improve and accelerate the process of land registration in Indonesia. He worked in field research, communication, training, and coordination for the Dutch company “Meridia” that helps the Indonesian government create solutions for affordable and scalable land documentation. Through community participation and technology innovation, rural communities were trained on cadastral surveying and data collection using a mobile application and low-cost high-accuracy terrestrial survey equipment. Prior to the project, he worked as the head of farmers’ affairs in the social enterprise “Krakakoa” that seeks to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers through training and direct trade while preserving the environment and producing the country’s best bean-to-bar chocolate. His roles ranged from coordinating extension programs in Good Agricultural Practices to post-harvest quality control, purchasing, and impact assessment. He collaborated with WWF and Swisscontact in training and business development for farmers living around national parks so that the increase of farming income would dissuade them from encroaching on forests. As an undergraduate, he conducted several studies on land-use management, disaster vulnerability, and community-based transportation while actively participating in several volunteering, community development, and social entrepreneurship activities. Together with his college friends, he developed mentoring programs and entrepreneurial workshops for underprivileged children living in slum areas of the biggest landfill site in Greater Jakarta. Recognized for his activism, he was selected to receive extensive training and incubation guidance from the DBS SE bootcamp and SIF’s Young Social Entrepreneur program which allowed him to travel across Southeast Asia and India to learn about the landscape of social business in Asia. From those experiences, Rio has developed his strong interest in improving the well-being of and creating sustainable solutions for the under-resourced and socially-excluded.
Interests: Sustainable agriculture, fair trade, land tenure, microfinance, social entrepreneurship, human geography, and political ecology.
Name: Silvia Jessica Mostacedo Marasovic (Jessica)
Hometown: La Paz, Bolivia.
Education: BSc in Socioeconomic Development and the Environment, Zamorano University, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Experience: Jessica had the opportunity to work in various Latin American countries and the United States in projects related with corporate social responsibility, agricultural value chain analysis, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, sustainability, and natural resources research. From 2009 until 2015, her most exciting and rewarding assignments were a series of consultancies with Parity Bolivian Consultants. She was involved in the analysis of dairy and alpaca fiber production chains, which included environmental, social, and economic perspectives on both types of chains, as a means to improve biodiversity conservation, production efficiency, and livelihoods in rural areas of Peru and Bolivia. Similarly, she worked in a microfinance services project to address crop transformations due to climate change in rural areas of Peru and Colombia as a project for ecosystem-based adaptation. She also worked for the Bolivian Corporate Social Responsibility Foundation, where she helped to introduce CSR and Global Compact fundamentals, which emphasize the preoccupation about environmental impacts within the private sector’s business approaches. In 2015, she moved to Chile and began working for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) at the Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division. Until 2017, she worked at ECLAC in a climate change program (Euroclima) where she developed a series of policy recommendation documents regarding climate change in areas that included water, biodiversity, agriculture, fuels, and adaptation and mitigation to climate change, among others. Also, she has been in charge of the visibility of the Program among its different stakeholders. By the end of 2017, she worked at ECLAC’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Division, where she conducted research on environmental concerns related to infrastructure for agriculture and mining, and explored, among other issues, the relevance of planning to avoid and reduce habitat loss. During her time in Chile, Jessica also taught Statistics in the Environmental Engineering Program of DUOC UC.
Interests: Water resources and biodiversity management, value chains, adaptation to climate change, resilience, education, entrepreneurship, GIS and land use management, urban sustainability, program management, statistics, and data management.
Name: Stephanie Muench
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico.
Education: BA in Anthropology, BA in Sociology and Minor in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance, University of Florida.
Experience: As an undergraduate student, Stephanie mentored at-risk youth during after-school programs hosted in middle schools around Alachua County. During a study abroad in Ethiopia, she had the opportunity to create a fundraiser that supported a group of individuals with physical disabilities that build their own assistance equipment. In the summer of her third year, she completed an internship in Gurgaon, India working with the promotion of health and sanitation through the creation and facilitation of workshops in rural towns. She mapped the villages and localized households with latrines available, in order to promote the construction of latrines in the households that did not have them, with a grant from the government. Throughout her undergraduate studies, Stephanie has worked closely with the issue of food insecurity, especially among students of colleges and universities. She supervised the Food Pantry at UF that strives to end student hunger by providing food to students, faculty and staff, without requiring proof of need. In her three years working at the Pantry she recruited and managed volunteers every week, encouraged and coordinated food drives, and was an advocate providing dozens of presentations for students and professionals. Stephanie also supervised another non-profit targeting clothing insecurity among the students at UF called the Gator Career Closet. This service helped thousands of students without any professional clothes find business professional clothing to wear for interviews and other professional events. Stephanie hopes to work on the sustainable development goals that focus on hunger, clean water, and gender equity.
Interests: Food security, food waste, community development, environmental awareness, social economics, social and environmental justice, sustainability, ecotourism, green building, cultural studies, gender equity, travel, dance, yoga, meditation.
Name: Weston A. Stitt
Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina.
Education: BS in Environmental Studies: Natural Resources, Minor in History, Sewanee: University of the South.
Experience: As an undergrad, Weston completed several summer field study courses focusing on barrier island ecology, southeastern forest restoration, and the geologic history of the Colorado Plateau. Upon graduating from Sewanee in 2015, Weston served as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Cape Cod National Seashore fire management team. The six-person crew worked to promote diversity and regenerate native plant species through prescribed burning and cutting projects in the maritime forests throughout the Cape. In September 2016, Weston began working as a field analyst with a vertically integrated coffee exportation company in Managua, Nicaragua. Within a few months, as directed by the government agency responsible for the environment and natural resources (MARENA), Weston developed an environmental management model for a coffee farm in Jinotega, which focused on best management practices for farmers to adapt to improve efficiencies in plant production and health. Prior to enrolling in the MDP program, Weston managed a 2-acre organic garden that provides produce for three restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama.
Interests: Sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture, climate change in agriculture, agroforestry, permaculture, natural resource management, social responsibility, coffee, food, traveling, cooking.
Cohort 8 (2017-2019)
Name: Daniela Lizano
Hometown: San José, Costa Rica.
Education: BS in Biology, Specialization in Botany, Universidad de Costa Rica.
Experience: Daniela started her career as a botanist, focusing her studies in the Ecology of Lichens. After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in 2005, she started working for The Nature Conservancy as a Science Assistant, for the TNC Costa Rica Country Program. It was during this opportunity (4 years) when she found herself working on topics more oriented to conservation area planning, measures of success and information management, finding these topics fascinating and starting a professional and vocational path as a conservation practitioner. During her professional career, in the last 10 years she has collaborated with national NGOs, education centers and international organizations, all based in Costa Rica, working on topics related to agro-biodiversity conservation, protected areas management, environmental awareness, education, community empowerment and information management. Daniela is very passionate about making scientific and conservation information attractive, available and effective to all decision makers and users. She has also participated in projects to measure conservation impact and this has been one of her major interests throughout her career.
Interests: Conservation planning, education, conservation measures, environmental awareness, sustainability, nature, mountaineering, music and meditation.
Name: Dylan Rigsby
Education: BA in English, minor in Business Administration, University of Florida.
Hometown: Tampa, Florida.
Experience: Dylan received his BA in English from UF where he studied creative writing and rhetoric while working as a front-end web developer. Upon graduating, he moved to Costa Rica where he volunteered with the non-profit WorldTeach and taught English in a small rural community. Since returning to the States he has worked as a farmhand on an organic farm in Hawthorne, taught H2A migrant workers English, and developed several of UF’s websites. Dylan looks to investigate the intersections of technology and agricultural extension in Latin America in the aim to understand their impacts on issues of food security, education, and resiliency.
Interests: Sustainable agriculture, food security, resilient communities, emerging technologies and technological adoption, globalization, coffee farming and production, labor economics, branding, communication strategies, and extension education.
Name: Emma Lannon
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Geography, with minors in International Relations and Environmental Studies from the State University of New York at Geneseo.
Experience: Emma is a dual national (United States and Great Britain) and her grandfather grew up in Tanzania. Having relatives in England, France, South Africa, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Singapore and Canada led to an inevitable interest in Geography. Ultimately she traveled out of state to university in Geneseo, New York where she was also a 4-year NCAA volleyball player. During her undergraduate work, Emma assisted with research in the Philippines and volunteered in India with women’s empowerment. In addition, she spent time in Peru working at Abre Puertas, an NGO serving remote Andean children. She learned that children who already understand seasons and day length based on mountain locations are already geographers. Extended post-graduate travel around Oceania and Southeast Asia has encouraged her to consider the potential and motivations of young travelers in development work.
Interests: Voluntourism, East Africa, GIS, spatial distribution of disease, disaster relief and refugees, conflict resolution, public motivation for travel, sport as global language.
Name: Jesse Cosme
Hometown: Hialeah, Florida.
Education: B.S. Sport Management, minor in Business Administration, University of Florida.
Experience: Jesse is a community organizer local to South Florida. Most of his experience has been in the social justice realm and has focused on socio-political aspects that create unsustainable living conditions for marginalized people in the United States more broadly and more specifically in South Florida. Jesse has also worked with unions to ensure that employees are properly represented within the current economic system and to expand the rights they have to provide them with more access to the things they need for their family and for themselves to continue to strive for a better livelihood. This includes access to healthcare, time off, and the appropriate compensation needed to secure healthy food and safe communities. Jesse has also been very involved in the humanitarian and economic crisis in Puerto Rico, participating in and helping host workshops educating people stateside about the issues involving the colonial status of Puerto Rico and its influences on the current crisis of the island.
Interests: Public health, public policy, social economics, food security, community engagement, race/gender/sexual/class equality, community development.