Student Group Taps into Campus Interest and Expertise on Latin America’s Environment

October 7, 2015
Contact:

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

By Nathan Miller, MEM ‘16
Nicholas School Communications Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – After more than 25 years, the Working Group on Environment in Latin America (WGELA) is still going strong.

Led by co-presidents Jennifer Finley Lezcano and Mauricio Hernández, both Master of Environmental Management students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, WGELA continues to promote environmental issues related to Central and South America.

“We want to foster interest in the economics, ecology, and politics surrounding the environments of Central and South America,” says Lezcano.  Specifically geared to students at the Nicholas School and Sanford School of Public Policy, she adds, “We want students to use our club to share experiences and information with each other, as well as the faculty, to network, and perhaps develop their own projects focusing on Latin America.”

Fostering interest shouldn’t be a problem for WGELA this year.  During their recent first meeting, Lezcano and Hernández spoke to a packed room full of interested students in Environment Hall.  The two ran off a list of upcoming events for this year, from talks and panel discussions, to networking events featuring wine and chocolate tastings.  Prospective members also got the chance to offer their own suggestions for future events, with community outreach into the local Spanish-speaking community being met with particular enthusiasm.

Previous successful WGELA events included a talk last year about ecotourism, featuring noted environmentalist Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, which attracted a sizeable audience.  

This year, they hope to host a lunch talk with the Duke Marine Lab’s Xavier Basurto, assistant professor of sustainability science, where they will discuss the documentary he co-directed with recent Nicholas School grad Liza Hoos. The film, At the Edge, follows a family in a small town in Baja California as their local economy phases out of its subsistence fishing traditions.  

Lezcano and Hernández also are bringing back lunch hours where students have the opportunity to brush up on their conversational Spanish.

All this is designed to stir interest and inspire students to work towards solutions to major issues facing the environment in Latin America today, and WGELA’s co-presidents are leading by example.  Lezcano spent a large portion of her summer in Peru collecting research for her master’s project, which focuses on the feasibility of climate change adaptation for regional small-scale coffee farmers.  

Hernández is studying water treatment processes, as they apply to agriculture and mining, and how they may be made more environmentally sound.  Though his research is not specific to any one region, Hernández, who was born Mexico City and raised in Queretaro, Mexico, hopes his work, both now and in the future, can affect positive change in Latin America.

Professional work aside, Hernández hopes anyone who has the opportunity to visit anywhere in Latin America goes.  “I want people to travel inside Latin America.  Anywhere.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s such a vibrant region and continent.  It changes how people see the world…gives them a greater perspective surrounding the environmental issues we face as a globe.”

Membership in WGELA is open to students at Duke, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This year, the group will rotate its monthly meetings between the three campuses.

Students and faculty can get more information about WGELA and their events by visiting their website.

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