Transforming economic systems has the power to solve many of our global challenges.
I have been passionate about our relationship to our environment from a young age. I began my academic journey at the highly selective Honors program at the University of Washington, declaring my major in Environmental Studies early on. I delved deeply into the academic content presented by my College of the Environment professors, however I began to crave a technical skill set to compliment my vast knowledge base on environmental issues. I wanted quantitative tools that could help me implement the changes I wanted to see in the world. My strong mathematical abilities and interest in human behavior patterns attracted me to the Department of Economics, where I declared my second major. I am one of just a few of the 40,000 students at the University of Washington who have chosen this combination of coursework. As a result, I have had to seek out experiences that connect my two fields on my own time. These experiences include studying abroad multiple times, conducting my own research projects, and securing internships in the environmental economics field.
I first learned about the field of environmental economics while studying abroad in Iceland and Greenland for four months during fall semester of 2017. Part of my program included attending the Arctic Circle Conference in Reykjavik where I met with academic, business, and government leaders from around the world. I made connections with leaders of the Natural Capital Project who sparked my interest in valuing ecosystem services. I met my Icelandic environmental economics hero, Professor Brynhildur Davidsdottir from the University of Iceland, who became my research advisor for a five-week research project. I networked so that I could work with the City of Reykjavik Department of Environment and Planning to conduct a total economic valuation of carbon sequestration through wetland restoration. This experience opened my eyes to the world of research and made me realize that I want to pursue more research in environmental economics and connect with more inspiring people.
Upon my return from Iceland to my home in Seattle, I immediately sought additional experiences that would further my learning about how economics can inform environmental decisions. I applied for a month-long study abroad program in Peru focused on biodiversity conservation in the Amazon, while also exploring senior thesis research ideas in the valuation of ecosystem services, and finding an internship that would complement my research. I spent my spring break at Stanford University to attend the 2018 Natural Capital Symposium, where I met Robert Costanza’s graduate students, reconnected with my mentor Emily McKenzie from the UK World Wildlife Fund, and talked with representatives from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
I began working at Earth Economics in June of 2018 – a local, non-profit consultancy that produces ecosystem service valuation reports for clients. There I learned how to work in a professional setting, manage an Ecosystem Service Valuation database, transcribe primary ecological economics literature, and develop constructive ideas with my project team. In addition to my work for my supervisor, I also began developing my own benefit transfer analyses for valuing biodiversity in Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon. This would serve as my senior thesis.
My month of work in Peru in 2018 included ten days in the world-renowned Cocha Cashu Biological Station in Manu National Park where we conducted primary mammal species diversity research. As a part of my thesis research, I interviewed Peruvians who were connected to the park to determine what kinds of values they received from the biodiversity and whether they thought quantifying this value would help conservation efforts. Their responses suggested that people value recreational, existence, aesthetic, bequest, and educational benefits most highly.