Here in the United States, November is a time for thankful reflection. Next week the START Secretariat staff will gather with our families to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. And this week we’d like to celebrate with you, our START family. Each day this week, we’ll feature a different START program participant to say thank you for what START alumni are doing to help our planet thrive.
During this season of giving, we invite you to join your START colleagues and friends and give a donation during “Giving Back 2014” to enable our work at START to continue.
Our final alumni story below features Dr. Mayowa Fasona, who has been an active START alumnus for the past decade. Mayowa is currently a climate researcher and professor, teaching courses in Remote Sensing and GIS applications, Natural Resource Management and Environmental Change. In his own words, Mayowa describes his experience with START and what makes START unique:
My first engagement with START came in 2004 when I received a travel grant from the Pan-African START Secretariat (PASS), then based at the University of Nairobi, to attend the Pan-Africa PAGES/START/INQUA workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. That marks a turning point because it was my first meeting attendance outside Nigeria. Again in 2006, I was invited to the START sponsored meeting on ecosystems changes and implications on livelihoods of rural communities, hosted by the Institute for Resource Assessment (IRA) of the University of Dar es Salaam. Again this meeting turned out to be very relevant and topical for me because I was at a crucial stage on my PhD thesis on land degradation and environmental change in a densely settled coastal rural landscape.
In 2009 I was selected as one of the pioneer postdoctoral fellows for the African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP). I carried out my research at the Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG), a START center of excellence in climate research, based in the University of Cape Town in South Africa. There I began to cut my own niche through interactions with climate scientists which are rated among some of the best around the world. I also learned the art of working with scientists from varied disciplines.
Since then I have had more engagements with START. I was the principal investigator of a research team that was awarded one of the GEC Research in Africa Projects in 2011-2013. I was also a co-investigator on another team that was awarded one of the GEC Research in Africa projects in 2012-2013. Now I have research partners that spread across the physical and social sciences and across a number of major research institutions in Nigeria and beyond.
I became engaged with START at the very right time, at the formative stage of my career. So the various experiences substantially influenced my career and research focus. For example, one of the core areas of my research is climate-ecosystems interactions. Experiences learnt from physical and social scientists across different backgrounds through START organized gatherings enabled me to develop greater confidence in the area of integrating the biophysical and social components. I have also developed stronger ability for teamwork. A number of my local research team members are START alumni who are united by the common goal to advance socio-ecological research.
One of the unique assets of START is the ability to engage in follow-up. It is good to ask a young scientist to work with a more experienced researcher so that he could be mentored. But to continue to check-up on the young scientist even after the engagement with the mentor has stopped is unique. To continue to ask a young scientist how he is faring long after a project or training has finished is unique. This personal touch makes the young scientist to develop more confidence in himself and believe in what he is doing. This has meant much to me.
I would like to keep the interaction with START going through both formal and informal channels—participate in organized meetings and key-in into the network. START alumni are everywhere now. So I look forward to a time when we will begin to have START alumni gatherings at regional and national clusters like other organizations such as the Fulbright Fellows and Ford and Rockefeller Foundations Fellows. This will surely strengthen the START network.
We are thankful for Mayowa Fasona’s career growth and contribution to GEC research in Africa, and most especially for his help and friendship with START staff and alumni throughout the years.
The Story of Lucie Cervana
Lucie Cervena (left) with a fellow researcher gathering forest data in the Czech Republic.
Lucie Cervena is an early-career climate scientist in the Czech Republic and one of our newest START alumni, having just participated in the 2014 Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) data initiative. She and seven other fellows traveled to the United States for three weeks to receive training on remote sensing analysis. Then they traveled back to their home countries with new skills, knowledge, and large sets of satellite data to help aid in their work.
Lucie is a Lecturer and Researcher at Charles University in Prague. In her research, she uses remote sensing of land cover and vegetation to determine the health status of grasslands and spruce stands in the Krkonose Mountains National Park. She was familiar with most of the computer software used at the GOFC-GOLD training, but reported that, “still there was new information for me – like the possibility of bulk download or existence of Climate Data Records (including surface reflectance product). Also the overview of the free digital elevation models was helpful for me.” Upon completion of the training, Lucie had planned to use the new knowledge in her research and teaching. Here’s what she had to say on the last day of training…
My first activities when I return to Charles University will be to give a short course to my fellow faculty members about Landsat and Land Cover Change Detection. Then I will develop a course for students with a focus on Landsat data characteristics, as well as the process for obtaining and interpreting the freely-available USGS/ EROS maps that document changes in land cover. I will update the curriculum of an undergraduate academic course on Remote Sensing based on the information that I learned at the Data Initiative Workshops.
I will also use the data and knowledge to prepare suggestions for new topics for Bachelor’s theses, which will be focused on nature protection in cooperation with Czech National Park Administration.
Since returning home to the Czech Republic, Lucie is happy to report that she and her colleagues have met these goals and are also working on the following two articles: (1) laboratory spectroscopy and the Norway spruce needles, and (2) different grassland species classifications based on different types of data in a model that includes the “new” accuracy assessment and area estimations which she learned at the GOFC-GOLD training.
Lucie had the following insights about her START experience after returning home:
The stay at Boston University made me understand more of all the problems and advanced techniques joined with Landsat data classifications and performance of change detection maps. The training gave me a lot of ideas how to improve the teaching of remote sensing class and knowledge which I can use in the projects related to my dissertation thesis.
We are delighted to help early-career teachers and researchers like Lucie Cervena gain the skills and data they need to be effective in their careers and advance the next generation of climate science.
Meen Chhetri tackles disaster preparedness in Nepal and beyond
Dr. Meen Chhetri was already a distinguished researcher and practitioner when he first encountered START at the 2010 Nepal Science-Policy Dialogue. He continued his interactions with START at the 2012 Advanced Institute on Forensic Investigation of Disasters (FORIN) held in Taiwan. He described that event as “a wonderful opportunity for me to learn FORIN approach which I applied in my research work here in Nepal and I have been successful.” He says, “I do hope that the knowledge and experience gained at the FORIN will be helpful for me in my whole life time. I also hope that I will have future opportunities to collaborate with START.”
Just last month, Dr. Chhetri was awarded the “DPNet-Nepal Award 2014” from the Government of Nepal in recognition of his significant contribution in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction. This award was part of an International Disaster Risk Reduction Day Celebration organized by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Government of Nepal and Disaster Preparedness Network-Nepal. At present, Meen is also working as the consultant and resource person in a number of disaster management projects and programs in Nepal.
Meen is a decorated researcher, professor, public figure, and author on the topic of disaster risk management. He is currently the President of the Nepal Center for Disaster Management (NCDM), Chairman of Paper Review Committee of The International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS), Vice-Chairman of Himalaya Conservation Group-Nepal and Vice-Chairman of Nepal Association of Humphrey Fellows. He has also been an adjunct professor at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia and former Director of the Department of Disaster Management of the Government of Nepal. He has authored two books on agriculture and flood management in Nepal, as well as a number of articles in various national and international journals.
Meet Madaka Tumbo
In 2007, Madaka Tumbo was finishing her Master’s Degree at the Institute of Resource Assessment at the University of Dar Es Salaam (IRA-UDSM) in Tanzania when a friend suggested that she apply for an upcoming START Advanced Institute on the Vulnerability of Water. Madaka was accepted as one of 19 program scholars – and so began a fruitful engagement with START that continues to this day.
After completion of the Advanced Institute, Madaka competed for follow-on research funding from the International Foundation of Science (IFS). She was also selected to receive that funding and used it to build on research completed during her MS degree. Her path quickly intersected with START again when she was hired by IRA-UDSM in 2008 as the Program Officer for the newly initiated African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP). “It was through ACCFP that my engagement with START was most influential,” says Madaka, whose leadership role in ACCFP marked her first experience in managing international programs. As the ACCFP gained traction, Madaka became a full-time staff member of the Pan-African START Secretariat (PASS) where she took on responsibilities in more than 10 START programs from 2008 -2012.
Madaka’s network of START, and especially ACCFP, contacts continues to strengthen over time and has been very useful in her professional growth and development. Through ACCFP network member Babatunde Abiodun at the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town (CSAG-UCT), Madaka was able to gain access to CORDEX data needed for her PhD research. “START connections are unique,” says Madaka. “Connections with START and fellow START alumni last much longer than any one engagement in a program or project. A fellowship or research grant might end, but that is not the end of your relationship with START. Being part of START is like being part of a family – and you meet START family members all over the world!”
Madaka is currently an Assistant Lecturer at IRA-UDSM, awaiting final committee approval of her PhD dissertation in Science (Hydrology) at the Institute for Water Research, Rhodes University in South Africa. We give thanks that Madaka is part of our START family – and for the many others out there who remained connected to us and each other.
The Story of Rodel Lasco
Dr. Rodel Lasco is a climate scientist who has pioneered research in the Philippines on climate change adaptation in the natural resources sector, the role of tropical forests in climate change, and the policy implications of the Kyoto Protocol. Rodel has a decade-long relationship with START, which he credits with some of his project leadership experience.
My first involvement with START was through the 2004 Assessments of Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change (AIACC) research grant competition on climate change adaptation. We were blessed to be selected and I served as the Principal Investigator (PI) of that project which covered a number of countries in Southeast Asia. Our START project jump started my career in climate change adaptation research. Through that project, I developed my skills and knowledge on climate research. I also expanded my network with fellow scientists around the world. The success I am reaping as a climate scientist is therefore largely due to that START project.
My fellow researchers in the project also benefited immensely. Four of us eventually became authors of IPCC assessment reports largely because of the project. That project was one of the first on adaptation in the Philippines.
Rodel remains a integral part of the START family in his current position as the Scientific Director of the Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management in the Philippines. The OML Center, under Rodel’s leadership, is a vital implementing partner in the Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship Program.
Rodel Lasco has over 30 years of experience in natural resources and environmental research, conservation, education and development at the national and international level. He is an author of the IPCC and has over 80 technical publications in national and international journals dealing with the various aspects of natural resources conservation and environmental management.
We are thankful for START alumni like Dr. Lasco and proud to help scientists like him expand their in-country expertise across regions and the international science community.