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Four students win Doris Duke Conservation Scholarships

Four ASU students, including three in Barrett Honors College, will embark on an eight-week, two-summer journey to learn the ins and outs of sustainability research. As participants in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, they will spend eight weeks this summer with other students and faculty at one of four field locations learning how to conduct research. Then, next summer, these brilliant young minds will apply what they have learned to gain eight weeks of experience in an internship. In addition, they also will attend career development workshops each January and virtual mentoring meetings every month.

The two-year program creates opportunities for Doris Duke scholars to study conservation issues, participate in land, water, and wildlife conservation research, and intern with conservation projects at environmental non-profits, research universities, and government agencies throughout the nation.

The DDCSP is administered by five universities: Northern Arizona University, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Florida, University of Michigan, and University of Washington.  With the exception of University of Florida, the program is open to students nationwide.

Ivanna Caspeta

Ivanna Caspeta is a freshman Barrett student majoring in conservation biology and ecology, with a minor in Spanish.

Caspeta said she was curious about merit-based scholarships and fellowships, as well as study abroad opportunities, so she sought the assistance of Brian Goehner in the Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA). Goehner was very helpful in narrowing down which scholarships were of interest to her and encouraged her to apply for the DDCSP.

Of course, Caspeta was ecstatic to hear she was accepted to not one, but both of the DDCSP locations she applied to, UC Santa Cruz and NAU.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to hear back from something I applied to,” Caspeta said. “I was more or less confident about being accepted since during the interview my interviewer mentioned that I was one of their top choices, but even then, the nervous anticipation of hearing back from them was significant.”

This summer, Caspeta will travel to UC Santa Cruz and meet up with 19 other students and faculty of the program. She and the other students will visit different nature reserves, research labs, and national parks to learn how to conduct research in the field and carry out their own research projects during the 8-week immersion trip. In summer 2019, she will complete an 8-week internship with a conservation organization.

The cost of the first summer program, including travel, dining, housing and equipment is covered. The second summer, the program will cover flight costs and up to $1,200 in room and board fees. She also will receive a stipend of $4,000 at the end of each summer, which Caspeta said she will use to cover her tuition.

“I was initially attracted to the program because it was research-oriented and about conservation,” Caspeta said. “After finding that it is specifically for freshman and sophomore students, I was even more inclined to apply since the program does not require us to have previous research experience, but rather wants to help us gain experience, especially students from groups that are not often seen in conservation, such as minorities,” said Caspeta, who is Hispanic. 

She said she has always been interested in field research but has little to no experience, and this was the perfect opportunity for her to gain some. She hopes this program also will help her find her niche within the conservation field.

Although Caspeta's graduation year is currently 2021, she plans to apply for the 4+1 program and graduate in 2022. She eventually aims to obtain a PhD in conservation.

“The very first step for me is gaining experience doing research and confirming that field research is what I am interested in—this is what this summer will be about for me,” Caspeta said. “Either before or after I finish my doctorate, I want to find a job in any of three sectors, but I am unsure which: private, nonprofit, or government. The internship during the next summer will help me find out more about at least one of them.”

Caspeta added that one of the most valuable things she can gain from this program is the connections and friendships among the other students and faculty.

Danielle Vermeer

Danielle Vermeer is a sophomore Barrett student double majoring in sustainability (BS) and urban planning (BSP) with a minor in Spanish literacy and cultural studies. She heard about the DDCSP through the School of Sustainability Undergraduate Newsletter and from a presentation of various sustainability scholarships by Goehner from ONSA.

“Most of all, I am excited to have been selected for this program because I am confident that it will help me grow as a professional and a student while giving me the opportunity to apply the theoretical sustainability themes that I learn about in class to a real-world setting with the support of a strong and diverse community of scholars,” she said.

Vermeer said she is looking forward to integrating her knowledge of systems thinking, sustainability, and calculus-based modeling into a research project.

Vermeer will be living and researching in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a faculty member at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. She will research collaborative decision making in regards to the sustainable management of coupled human-natural systems. For this research project she will develop a model that can interpret different decisions and their outcomes in an interactive role playing simulation game.  

“This is important for sustainability because it helps us get an idea of expert and stakeholder capacity to adapt to various social and environmental conditions,” she said.

Next summer, Vermeer will apply what she has learned at an internship and participate in field trips to explore various regions of the Great Lakes.

“Throughout the entirety of the program, I will continue to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion in relationship to conservation and sustainability,” Vermeer said. “Overall, this program will allow me to conduct meaningful research in the field of sustainability, intern in a position that I feel passionate about, and learn about the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion has in our world's most pressing sustainability challenges.”

Vermeer said this program gives her the opportunity for practical learning while also being surrounded by like-minded scholars who can support her in her goals to be an agent of change.
“I decided to apply for this program because I am a strong proponent of experiential learning,” she said. “I like to learn through hands-on experiences where I can apply what I read in my text-books to a real-world setting. This approach to learning can help better guide me to create meaningful and impactful change in the field of sustainability.”

 “Making impactful change on a global scale seems abstract, but I believe we can create positive change to our environment and its inhabitants starting in our own communities,” Vermeer said.

She, who aspires to work in urban planning, said she wants to help communities become better prepared to withstand environmental stresses while also taking steps to minimize human impact on the environment through conservation, effective planning and blending nature into a rapidly urbanizing society. By doing so, she hopes to foster the establishment of environmentally conscious communities.

As a research assistant for an ASU graduate student, Vermeer gained experience studying regenerative design and planning communities with meaningful connections to the environment, as well as resilience, sustainability, and human well-being. She said she is passionate about utilizing environmental protection to enhance human happiness and health.

 “I am confident that this program and the other scholars in this program will open my mind and heart to the complex sustainability said Vermeer, who is set to graduate in 2020. “Overall, this program will help me become an environmental professional who is ready to make a difference in our world.

Elyse Kats is a sophomore Barrett student majoring in sustainability.

Elyse Kats

“I am super excited to have been accepted. As an aspiring environmental lawyer, this experience will be extremely valuable,” Kats said, adding that the program will give her “amazing footholds in the industry, experience and great connections.”

She will spend this summer at NAU and various field locations throughout Arizona and Utah, like the Grand Canyon. She also will participate in an internship next summer, but the location is yet to be determined.

 “I decided to apply to the program because I am very interested in environmental conservation and policy, particularly water and land rights,” she said.

Kats is planning to graduate a year early next summer in order to begin law school. She hopes to study law at ASU.

Kelly Baker, a sophomore majoring in sustainability and global studies, said she heard about this program through the School of Sustainability and was particularly interested in applying because of the program’s foci on sustainability, conservation and diversity.

“It is honestly a dream come true to be able to experience an opportunity like this,” she said. “I am completely humbled and so thankful to the School of Sustainability and the Doris Duke Foundation. ASU has given me so many opportunities to grow within myself and as a professional.”

Baker said she plans to use the program to evolve professionally and hopes the skills she learns help propel her into the professional world and kick-start her career.

She also hopes to use her findings in graduate school, in which she plans to study global studies with a focus on sustainability. She will obtain her undergraduate degree in 2020 and is interested in possibly joining the Peace Corps or Americorps before entering graduate school. Baker was encouraged to apply for the program by her academic advisor, Abi Graves.

“She was so excited about the program that the feeling was contagious,” Baker said. “The program also focuses on representation of professionals in the conservation field. This especially interested me, since I am from many different backgrounds and have participated in grassroots programs. I would like to bring together many different facets of activism and showcase that conservation does not only stand by the protection of land and ecosystems but also varying groups of people that have diverse backgrounds.”

“I want to be able to advocate for the environment, animals and people that are getting unfair treatment and that need someone to bring justice to their story,” Baker said. “This program will help me reach this goal by providing me with connections within conservation to propel my career in advocacy by learning the science behind conservation and being able to relay my findings to promote education in sustainability and living a sustainable lifestyle.” 

Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism.