Current employer: Secretary of Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles
Degree: Masters in Fisheries Science, 2001
Lab: Chesapeake Biological Laboratory
Adviser: Tom Miller
What do you do in your current job? Verónica works with partner-governments from 15 different countries, mediating a dialogue between different agencies, the scientific community and NGOs about the mortality rate for endangered sea turtle species and laws needed to protect them. On a typical day she might talk to a country’s naval commander about the recent arrest of a smuggler of endangered sea turtles or fundraise for a workshop with fisherman in Guatemala on best handling practices for accidentally captured sea turtles.
What inspires you about your work? Verónica says she is inspired every day by the people she works with – from the government officials who invest their time “because they care” about the turtles to the scientists who are driven by a passionate commitment to the species to the beach volunteers who work at night under dangerous conditions to collect information on the nesting habits of these special animals.
How did your time at UMCES prepare you for your career? When Verónica arrived at UMCES from her native Nicaragua she had never attended school in the U.S. and her English was “less than perfect.” Her advisor, Thomas Miller, guided her and made the transition far smoother. “He would explain the most difficult things in a manner I could understand. He also taught me to be kind. Being kind with your knowledge. To me, that is what a great teacher is.”
For Verónica, the teachers and labs made UMCES a great program. “They motivate students to be excellent. My lab was a very close-knit family and exposed me to different areas of environmental science. UMCES really gives students skills needed to become science leaders. They make students strong and goal-oriented and have confidence. It makes you believe you can achieve great goals.”
What was the most important lesson from UMCES? Studying at the Chesapeake Biological Lab helped Verónica hone her organizational skills, improve her English, speak effectively to large audiences and develop the grant writing skills she uses in her current work. She also learned how to form strong working relationships with fishermen. “You need to prove to fisherman that you can be on boat and you won’t get sick!”
What’s your advice for current and prospective students? Verónica advises students who want to pursue a career in international conservation to learn as many languages as possible. “Communication is a lot easier if you speak the same language, but it also creates connections with people and they react to your message better when you talk in their own language.” Additionally, she emphasizes the need to be courteous and kind. “I had to learn diplomacy in my career because I deal with a lot of different people and you can never go wrong with being kind.”