Moving from Project Idea to Project Implementation, at Beloit and Beyond

In fall 2020, Maria Elvira Lopez’21 designed a project to increase community resilience in a Quito neighborhood in an environmental studies capstone course. Support from the World Wildlife Fund made project implementation possible.

A triple major in environmental studies, international relations, and Russian and an international student from Ecuador, María Elvira López’21 is passionate about not only studying the environment, but empowering people to sustain it. Given her combination of majors and environmental interests, it was only natural then that during a study abroad semester in Russia, she studied environmental activism in Moscow.

Outside of class on the Beloit College campus, she was a member of BUG, the student-run Beloit urban garden, serving as co-president, organizing work days, and helping coordinate events. As a senior, Maria focused on stories about Beloiters’ engagement with the natural environment as an outreach specialist for the office of international education. In between her first and second years at Beloit College, Maria returned home to Ecuador to work with the Kichwa indigenous community in Otavalo on a project to integrate a carbon offset program into its agroforestry sustainability efforts. Natura Plus S.A. sponsored her internship.

Now, months following her graduation from Beloit, Maria is joining Conservation International as a program coordinator in its Conservation Finance Division. There she’ll conduct, compile, and report on research on a broad range of topics and also help manage and monitor projects.

Her new job ties directly to the knowledge and skills she developed at Beloit College. Thus, in her environmental studies capstone course with Pablo Toral, a professor of international relations and environmental studies, Maria designed a project to increase community resilience and ecosystem integrity in a neighborhood in the south of Quito. She then successfully applied to the World Wildlife Fund for support to implement the project.

“Becoming a member of the World Wildlife Fund’s first youth community in Ecuador allowed me to meet other people interested in working toward making our city a more sustainable space for people and the planet. Together we modified and adapted the initial project design and were able to implement it. Our project is empowering community leaders through a variety of expert-led workshops on sustainability and leadership. We’re providing them with the tools and resources needed to make their neighborhood a healthier and greener space. This was an incredible opportunity to take what I had learned in my classes and use it to make a meaningful impact.”

Maria’s record of experiential learning made her stand out as a job candidate. “I could show that I’d already had meaningful experience in project management, which is a sought-after skill for the kind of organizations and companies that interest me.”

Maria’s advice to other Beloit College students: “Be confident in your potential. Seize all the opportunities that Beloit College has to offer. There are so many experiences that you can get involved with while you are a college student. If you are passionate about them, there is no reason not to take advantage of the resources that are available.”

By: Elizabeth Brewer
August 30, 2021

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