What is your previous work experience?
My name is Alex O’Neill and I am a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) and Forestry (MF) candidate at the Nicholas School. After graduating from Georgetown University, I spent several years supporting NGOs working to preserve the biological and cultural heritage of the Himalayas. This began as a David L. Boren Scholar in Nepal in 2014, and continued as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar the following year.
As a Fulbrighter, I collaborated with the G. B. Pant National Institute in its efforts to understand the historical ecology of high-altitude wetlands. Specifically, I worked directly with communities in the mountain state of Sikkim to understand ecological baselines and wetland biodiversity for Ramsar and UNESCO proposals.
Building on these experiences, I then joined the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With their team, I authored IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessments for over 400 Crop Wild Relatives, or plants that are genetic relatives of our crops. Many of these species were native to the Greater Himalayas, and thus served as an excellent tie-in to my previous work.
My time with IUCN then led to a Summer internship in 2017 with the United States Department of Agriculture. There I supported scientists at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems lab integrate their research into evidence-based policies.
Why did you choose the Nicholas School?
The Nicholas School provides elite training in the tools demanded by environmental industries. The classes are practical, and equip students with the tools they need to thrive in diverse work settings.
Do you have any areas of interest or special focus you will undertake during your time at the Nicholas School?
I am interested in human-environment interactions, and the applications of science in international relations. I believe that the future of international relations will be framed in terms of the environment.
Now, given the current tide of US politics, I don’t see this being couched in terms of buzzwords necessarily, like conservation, environmental management, or forestry. But I do see it manifesting in terms of water security, sustainable agricultural systems, and mining. After several years working with the USDA and UN Environmental bodies in India and Nepal, I’ve found that I’m uniquely positioned to advocate to scientists, policymakers, and, most importantly, locals about many of these environmental issues.
What are you looking forward to as a new Nicholas School student?
I look forward to joining a community of peers and future colleagues who passionate about the environment. We have much to learn from each other, and I look forward to shared experiences.
What future plans do you have for your career after the Nicholas School?
After graduating, I hope to join either an NGO working in South and Central Asia, including the Asia Foundation, World Resources Institute, or ICIMOD, or the US Department of State as a Foreign Affairs Officer.
Deciding on which graduate school to attend is a difficult decision. But I settled on Duke University for three major reasons. The first was the faculty. While applying, Professors Pat Halpin, Brian Silliman and Curt Richardson contacted me directly to provide information about Duke's programs. I was shocked.
These scientists are incredibly busy, but they took the time to reach out and talk about my research interests. The second reason was because of Duke's Idealist Fair in Washington, DC. Karen Kirchof was far more outgoing and approachable than admissions officers at other competitive schools. She followed up with me about programs at Duke, which made me feel as a welcomed part of the community.
My final reason for come to the Nicholas School was because of you, the donor of my Nicholas Scholarship. You made it financially possible for me to attend an elite school like Duke, and really get the most out of my education. Because of this scholarship, I can explore other opportunities both at Duke and abroad without having to subsidize my education with part-time jobs. I am incredibly grateful.