Clark University student researcher lands UN internship in Rome

Clark University geography student Yelena Finegold

Clark University student Yelena M. Finegold, a senior in the Graduate School of Geography, will travel to Rome for a prestigious Forest Futures summer internship with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO).

Finegold will work with the UN FAO Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) team to predict and analyze forest change from 2010 to 2030 and 2050. Additionally, she will consider how the results are interpreted and how they are relevant to various stakeholders, including forestry experts around the world. FRA reports are released every five to 10 years. In the past, they reported only existing, historical data on forest change. The upcoming report will, for the first time, predict the future of forests, Finegold notes.

Finegold is scheduled to present her research at the Association of American Geographers’ (AAG) Annual Meeting in Los Angeles (April 9 to 13), along with several Clark University undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. The meeting brings together thousands of geographers, GIS specialists, environmental scientists, and other leaders to share their latest research.

After the AAG conference and before becoming a Clark University graduate, Finegold will be in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from May 6 to 10 for an FAO conference, where forestry experts from around the world will present their work. The conference will feature research by government administrators, academic experts, and quite possibly just one undergraduate student presenter: Yelena Finegold.

“Yelena has earned the trust of the FAO. She has gotten to the point where she’s that competent, and that is so gratifying. It’s the goal of any professor to allow students to achieve that level of competence,” says her adviser and Clark University Graduate School of Geography Professor Robert “Gil” Pontius. “Yelena is a wonderful example of what students can do in Geography at Clark. I think the key to that kind of student success is the exposure Clark gives them to a combination of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs within the department.”

After commencement (May 19), Finegold will go to Rome for the UN FAO internship, where she will work under the direction of Marieke Sandker, FAO consultant, and Kenneth MacDicken, Senior Forestry Officer at the FAO headquarters office, situated just a five-minute walk from the Coliseum. Ongoing, advance weekly meetings with Sandker via Skype have been “essential” in order to communicate progress and plan on next steps, Finegold says.

Finegold, who plans to enroll in Clark’s accelerated 5th year master’s degree program in Geographic Information Science (GIS), will continue her research with the UN FAO Forest Futures project for her master’s thesis.

Finegold with her adviser, Professor of Geography Robert “Gil” Pontius

Taking her scholarship on the road is nothing new to Finegold, who spent her spring 2012 semester abroad with the EURO Scholars research program based in Finland. During that time, she spent two weeks in Tanzania, conducting fieldwork with Finnish professors researching biodiversity “hot spots” and land cover mapping in East Africa.

As a recipient of a Peter Condakes Fellowship, Finegold spent the summer of 2011 at Iracambi Atlantic Rainforest Research Center in Brazil as a GIS intern, developing a mining monitoring project. She also is a Presidential Scholar and received the Glickstein Memorial Scholarship and a Theodore Barth Summer Internship Grant. She has participated at academic conferences at Clark (Fall Fest), and in Tanzania, Sweden and Switzerland.

Finegold intends to have a career in land-change research and GIS, a trajectory she says began when she took the first-year seminar, Losing Ground: Land Change Since the 19th Century, taught by Clark associate professor of geography John Rogan. “That’s what got me hooked on land change GIS,” she said. She continued in geography and became involved with the Forest Futures project research through Professor Pontius’s graduate seminar on GIS Land Change Science.

Finegold is from Jacksonville, Florida. Her parents are from Russia and, even before coming to Clark from her home in Jacksonville, she participated in the IB International Baccalaureate Program while in high school.  “I always felt an interest in learning about and exploring new places in the world.”

In her travels from Finland to Tanzania, Finegold finds lots of people who know about Clark or are from Clark, she says. “I definitely feel I’m in the right place.”

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a small, liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark’s pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark’s faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to contemporary challenges in the areas of psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University’s motto: Challenge convention. Change our world. www.clarku.edu