Four Northern Arizona University graduate students with a passion for the environment got a boost that will help them launch their professional careers as leaders in land conservation.
Cassandra Rivas, Katie Sauerbrey, Sasha Stortz and Amber Wilson were named Wyss Scholars by the Wyss Foundation, which provides scholarships for master’s degree students who are pursuing careers in land conservation and management in the U.S. intermountain West.
In addition to in-school support—the students will receive partial tuition payments while they complete their master’s degrees in environmental sciences and policy at NAU—the program also provides a $5,000 summer stipend and support after graduation in the form of post-graduation payments for up to three years while they are launching their careers in the conservation profession.
The scholarships are valued at more than $30,000 apiece, encouraging the students to build on their existing research and pursue conservation leadership roles in the intermountain West.
Over the summer, Rivas conducted fieldwork in southwestern Nicaragua in collaboration with the non-profit conservation organization Paso Pacifico. She collected data for mapping potential conservation areas in a narrow isthmus between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific coast that is important for wildlife movement and future conservation and restoration initiatives.
Sauerbrey spent the summer using interactive community forums to study citizen perceptions and impacts of smoke from prescribed fires. She plans to identify specific smoke thresholds that are acceptable to community members in northern Arizona.
“Being part of that network of people who are passionate about conservation and who are dedicated to the intermountain West will lead to new collaborations and progress in conservation efforts,” Sauerbrey said.
Stortz, whose research focus is on using GIS mapping and analysis tools to help the National Park Service prioritize conservation strategies, plans to explore a case study on stakeholder involvement in a natural resource landscape assessment for Grand Canyon National Park.
Wilson’s studies focus on increasing oil and gas development in eastern Wyoming, an area already facing the challenges of limited water supply. Over the summer, she helped produce a white paper for state legislators facing major policy decisions as they attempt to balance scarce water supplies with energy development, Wyoming’s primary economic pillar.
“We’re thrilled that the Wyss Foundation is supporting our students,” said Tom Sisk, NAU’s Olajos-Goslow chair of environmental science and policy. “It’s really a testament to the strength of our program and the high-caliber students who are attracted to it.”