villegas ’21 pursues interest in enviro justice

Jolie Villegas ’21 grew up in San Francisco and majored in environmental studies and biology at Wes. After receiving her master’s degree at Columbia, she became a clean power analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund. Today, she is an analyst at the World Resources Institute.

How did you develop an interest in studying and working in the environment? How did your experience at Wesleyan influence your decision to work in this industry?
I was born and raised in San Francisco, California, which is a very green and environmentally focused city. It’s easy to adapt individual sustainable behavior practices when you’re surrounded by a community of like-minded people.

I initially thought about environmentalism as an individual issue, caused by consumerism and waste. Then, through my classes at Wes, I got a much more holistic picture of climate change and all of the anthropogenic actions that are contributing to inequitable climate impact. I shifted my field of study from the conservation side, into climate and environmental justice.

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zaks ’99 relishes role in enviro communications

Laura Zaks ’99 is an international food security specialist with expertise in the intersection of agriculture, climate, economic development, nutrition, and public health. She is the associate director of communications and development for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, DC.

Hello Laura! Would you tell me about your path into working in food security?
It’s been a long journey, when I was at Wesleyan I didn’t know that I wanted to work in food security. I was more interested in broader issues surrounding economic development and community development, but wasn’t really sure how I would work in that space.

I had a period of trial and error. I was actually a College of Letters major and was originally focused on humanities. I really loved history and thought about law school, but because I had studied languages, I was also interested in working abroad. I ended up traveling to Panama, and working there for two years.

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snyder ’23 engages in green planning

Would you share a bit about yourself, and some of the highlights of your time at Wesleyan?
Hi! I’m Phoebe Snyder, and I am a class of 2023 graduate. I’m originally from New York, but I have relocated to Denver, Colorado, since graduation. There were a lot of highlights of my Wesleyan experience. During my time at Wes I was on the swim team, also part of a co-ed fraternity on campus! I was a double major in environmental studies and government.

Were you involved with research on campus?
Yes, I worked on research with Helen Poulos, who was fantastic and very supportive. I completed a thesis on the effects of thinning on forests to see how it would affect post fire hydrology, with Professor Poulos as my advisor. I researched whether or not this was beneficial for immediate regrowth and health of forests. I didn’t collect the data in the field myself, but reviewed Helen’s data utilizing GIS analysis. I spent a lot of time sorting through the excel spreadsheets to look at evapotranspiration rates, and examined how water was cycling through the ecosystem. The evapotranspiration rates of plants were indicators of how healthy they were.

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reistrup ‘21 explores mine reclamation and restoration

Cole Reistrup ‘21 graduated from Wesleyan with majors in environmental studies and earth and environmental science. He is also an alumnus of the University of San Francisco, where he received his master of science in environmental management. His master’s thesis, Considerations for the Use of Mycorrhizal Fungi Inoculants in Coal Mine Reclamation and Reforestation in Appalachia: A Guide of Best Practices and Management Recommendations, explores the promising strategy of utilizing mycorrhizal fungi in restoration efforts. Cole is a project manager for Williams Forestry & Associates, where he is responsible for overseeing the safe and effective implementation of coal mine reforestation projects in southern West Virginia and Kentucky. He was recently elected the West Virginia representative for the Society for Ecological Restoration.

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brown ’22 shares travel-volunteer experience and advice

Belle Brown ‘22, an environmental studies and government major while at Wes, shares her Workaway experiences in Goa, India, and the Western Ghat mountains, working in permaculture and eco-building; discusses her time at Wesleyan and her late night talk show thesis, Wesleyan Tonight; and shares advice for current Wesleyan students!

Hi, Belle! Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and your time at Wesleyan?
Hi! I am from Arlington, Virginia, but was raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. I graduated from Wes in 2022, with degrees in environmental studies and government. While at Wes, I was involved in the comedy groups Hysterics and Awkward Silence. For my capstone I created a late night TV show called Wesleyan Tonight, which continued on for a year after I left! I worked at Long Lane Farm, and for Wesleyan Food Rescue, as well as on some senior film theses. I was also a compost intern and got to collect people’s food waste and educate them on composting. That was one of my favorite jobs; it really sparked my current interest in food justice and sustainable agriculture.

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kirana ’21 uses data to tell climate stories

Yuke Kirana ‘21 received her BA from Wesleyan in environmental studies and earth & environmental sciences.  She is currently working as a data analyst at the Systems Change Lab at World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research nonprofit partnering with the Bezos Earth Funds and funded by the GEF Foundation, focusing on seven key areas relating to natural resources: food, forests, water, energy, cities, climate, and ocean. 

Yuke’s interest in environmental studies began in high school, when she worked on a plastic waste reduction project as a student in Jakarta, Indonesia. “That project exposed me to the complexity of environmental issues,” says Yuke. “And it piqued my interest to learn more about the complex system that influences and shapes environmental initiatives.”

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