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Protecting the Planet with Fulbright

“When we add the human perspective to the technical, we can create solutions that are better for people and better for the planet, because really, those are the same.”

Madison Wrobley, 2019 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow to Nepal

Extreme weather, ecosystem disruption, food insecurity, pollution—around the world, communities face existential threats impacting every facet of life. Protecting the planet and mitigating these issues requires comprehensive, international solutions.

As cultural ambassadors and environmental stewards, Fulbrighters work to create a sustainable future through scientific research and communication, habitat and wildlife conservation, and innovative policy and technology for a sustainable future.

Communicating Science

Fulbrighters advance understanding of environmental issues through scientific research and communication. Dr. Gillian Bowser, 2013 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Peru, is an ecology research scientist and faculty member in the Natural Resource Lab at Colorado State University, where she mentors students from underrepresented groups in science. During her Fulbright at National Agrarian University – La Molina, Dr. Bowser focused on communicating the impact of glacial retreat in Huascarán National Park’s mountain wetlands to faculty and students. At home, she has shared her knowledge as a wildlife biologist and ecologist with the general public for the U.S. National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

Dr. Gillian Bowser
Colorado State University Natural Resource and Ecology Laboratory research scientist Gillian Bowser, right, leads students on a BioBlitz in Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico.

Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, 1996 Fulbright 50th Anniversary Distinguished Lecturer to Cyprus and Turkey, is a tropical and conservation biologist who communicates the impact of climate change to organizations and general audiences through media and education. Known as “the Godfather of Biodiversity” since introducing the term in 1980, Dr. Lovejoy leads the Amazon Biodiversity Center, which advances Amazon rainforest preservation and raises awareness of the human role in climate change. He also serves as a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation and is a professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University. Dr. Lovejoy has worked within the World Wildlife Fund-U.S., World Bank, National Geographic Society, UNESCO, and the Smithsonian Institution, promoting conservation initiatives including “debt-for-nature” swaps, which exchange foreign debt for protection of biologically fragile areas. 

Dr. Lovejoy is a co-creator and former advisor of the successful PBS television series “Nature,” where his messages on conservation, realized through stunning wildlife photography, have reached millions of viewers. Over 38 seasons, “Nature” has received 700 honors from the television industry, including three George Foster Peabody Awards, and 22 Emmy Award nominations.

Dr. Brigitte Baptiste, 1992 Fulbright Foreign Student to the University of Florida, is a cultural landscape ecologist from Colombia. She is intent on advocating for her country’s environmental health through a “queer ecology” lens, which attempts to affirm the uncertainty of ecology and the natural world in mainstream science. A national columnist and public intellectual, Dr. Baptiste is Director of Universidad Ean, a member of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and a member of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research. Through writing, research, public speaking, and teaching, Dr. Baptiste advocates for Colombia’s natural resources and vulnerable communities, specifically Indigenous and LGBTQ minorities, affected by environmental change.

Fulbrighters also share scientific ideas with new audiences through innovative forms of communication. Dr. Luis Graciano Velazquez, 2017 Fulbright Foreign Student to Michigan State University, completed a doctoral degree in Information and Media. Dr. Graciano works to educate and prepare underserved communities for natural disasters through the power of games and multimedia, including through a proposed board game, currently in development. Following his Fulbright, Dr. Graciano shares his knowledge of crisis communications and disaster preparedness througoutLatin America, strengthening communities and saving lives.

Elizabeth Kolbert, 1983 Fulbright U.S. Student to Germany, an American journalist and author, is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Her body of work, which focuses on humankind’s impact on the natural world, includes commentary for The New Yorker magazine, and long-form narratives including: “The Climate of Man,” “Field Notes from a Catastrophe,” and “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.” Combining cutting-edge science, first-hand observation, and reflection, Kolbert provides moving accounts of the natural disappearances occurring all around us in an effort to protect the planet.

Conservation

In the face of environmental change, Fulbrighters work with communities to conserve natural resources, promote biological diversity, and combat the effects of climate change. Madison Wrobley, 2019 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow to Nepal and cultural anthropologist, combined hydrogeological data with interviews to better understand how land development affects water access and perpetuates social conflict. Using data to create programs with local partner organizations including The Small Earth Nepal, Wrobley believes that when “we add the human perspective to the technical, we can create solutions that are better for people and better for the planet, because really, those are the same.”

Madison Wrobley with office staff
Madison Wrobley (second from left) with office staff in Gongabu ward, Kathmandu, where she interviewed residents about the valley’s water resources.

Liz Schnackenberg, 2019 Fulbright Specialist to Portugal, uses her expertise to combat deforestation. A hydrologist and U.S. National Park Service employee in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, Liz trained natural resource and forestry professionals at Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas to develop strategies for post-fire response, including minimizing soil erosion and identifying areas at high-risk of flooding.

Liz Schnackenberg
Liz Schnackenberg assesses soil burn severity during a tour of the 2018 Lake Christine Fire burn area in Aspen, Colorado.

Fulbright scientists conserve wildlife ecosystems across the planet, making a difference in the lives of human and animal communities. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, including the Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, enables young professionals to research, explore, and promote conservation through science, technology, and storytelling. Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of National Geographic Society, reiterates the importance of this critical collaboration, stating, “The National Geographic Society is proud to have partnered with the U.S. Department of State to fund storytelling projects on globally relevant issues since 2013. We believe that storytelling has the power to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. The Fulbrighters selected for this program have undertaken in-depth explorations of our world’s many cultures, shared their observations with global audiences, and shown how truly interconnected we all are.”

Explore the critical steps U.S. Students and Fulbright-National Geographic Fellows are taking around the world to support wildlife:

Policy and Innovation for the Future

Through research and hands-on experience, Fulbrighters create innovative policy and technology for a sustainable future. Dr. Hai-Vu Phan, 2016 Fulbright Public Policy Fellow to Peru, conducted doctoral field research on renewable energy policies and worked as a technical assistant within Peru’s energy regulatory agency. Now a Government Relations Senior Specialist at Edison International, Dr. Phan challenges the Californian electric and transportation sectors to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Staying connected to her host community, she is “incredibly grateful for the genuine connections [she’s] made” through Fulbright.

Shalanda Baker, JD, 2016 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Mexico, creates and oversees inclusive energy policy as Deputy Director for Energy Justice in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). She has spent over a decade conducting research on the equity of the global transition to cleaner energy resources, and is the author of more than a dozen articles, book chapters, and essays on renewable energy justice, policy, and renewable energy development. On her Fulbright in Oaxaca, Baker analyzed local wind energy projects, calling her Fulbright experience an “unprecedented opportunity to look at the impact…on Indigenous communities.” Baker will serve as a panelist on the Fulbright Impact in the Field: Climate Change and Environmental Justice on Friday, April 23rd, 2021 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time.

Shalanda Baker
Shalanda Baker, JD, leads energy policy as Deputy Director for Energy Justice in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative assembles a network of scholars, professionals, and applied researchers from the eight Arctic Council member countries to work towards creating a secure and sustainable Arctic. Working in tandem with peoples of the Arctic is critical to achieving the Initiative’s goals, and each cohort of scholars works to learn from and identify solutions with the very communities experiencing the real impacts of a changing Arctic. After collaborating with scientists, community leaders, public servants, and other key stakeholders, each cohort produces an action-based policy brief.

Dr. Maria Tysyachnyuk with dog
Dr. Maria Tysyachnyuk, Fulbright Arctic Initiative alumna from Russia, in Alaska. Her Fulbright led to a scientific paper analyzing benefit-sharing between oil companies, the North Slope Borough, and Indigenous peoples in Alaska.

Fulbrighters also create innovative technological solutions to global issues, sharing knowledge across communities. Benard Tabu, 2019 Fulbright Foreign Student to the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, supports renewable energy solutions across the African continent. A doctoral student in energy engineering and renewable energy, he is the co-founder of Sun Tel Holdings Limited, a company that provides solar installation, consulting, and maintenance of solar systems in his home country of Uganda.

Benard Tabu with Dr. Dassou Nagassou, 2013 Fulbright Foreign Student from Chad and current postdoctoral researcher
Benard Tabu (left), with Dr. Dassou Nagassou, 2013 Fulbright Foreign Student from Chad and current postdoctoral researcher, posing near a Microwave Plasma Reactor for the decomposition of carbon-dioxide into valuable products at University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Erika Boeing, 2014 Fulbright U.S. Student to the Netherlands, is the founder and CEO of Accelerate Wind, a company working to revolutionize rooftop wind energy and drastically lower the cost of small wind turbine technology. On her Fulbright, Boeing completed a master’s degree at Maastricht University, studying innovative energy technologies. Her work during her Fulbright, which had “immeasurable impact” on her professional and personal development, included research into the energy rebound effect and its impact on new energy efficiency technologies.

Hasan Anwer, 2012 Fulbright Foreign Student to Duke University, is an experienced carbon project development professional. As a Fulbrighter, Anwer completed a master’s degree in public policy analysis, climate change, and renewable energy from the Sanford School of Public Policy. His education supports his work as Program Director at Pakistan Environment Trust, a non-profit organization tackling Pakistan’s toughest environmental challenges. Anwer also founded EnMass Energy, a renewable energy startup that harnesses biomass from smallholder farmers to generate power and reduce emissions in Punjab; and 501Carbon, which provided grassroots energy solutions through carbon finance.

Hasan Anwer
Hasan Anwer is Program Director at Pakistan Environment Trust and is the founder of EnMass Energy, a renewable energy startup.

These have been a few examples of how Fulbrighters and the Fulbright Program are working toward protecting the planet – through communicating scientific research with the general public, bolstering conservation, and creating innovative policy and technology. By living and learning together, we can shape a more sustainable vision for our communities and our world.