Growing up in Brooklyn, Joshua Carrera says he didn't know much about the environment — or UVM. He certainly didn't anticipate that after traveling the world studying management and human ecology in Ecuador and Brazil he'd appear on the June 2011 cover of Nature Conservancy Magazine.
His time growing up in Brooklyn was not always easy — including a painful period when he and his family were forced to move to a homeless shelter when Carrera was 15 years old. Still Carrera chose to attend the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, a UVM partnership school that sends a handful of students to the university each year. As a student there, he was selected for a "Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF)" internship, awarded by the Nature Conservancy. The LEAF internship also included a visit to UVM and a meeting with an alumnus of his high school
Carrera says he still wasn't convinced that studying and working on behalf of the environment was his future. But that changed after two highly influential service-learning courses in ornithology and an ecotourism course in Costa Rica.
"I'd taken over 20 courses, but these two had such an incredible impact on the way I see things," Carrera says. "I would never have learned things like how to travel sustainably and lowering my environmental impact had I not come to UVM. It has played a major role in what I'm doing today and how I think about the world."
Carrera travelled in August 2010 to study in Ecuador, where his mother was born, and Brazil. While there, he interviewed farmers and other stakeholders in the Amazon and found that a lack of land rights creates a disincentive for people to take care of their land in an environmentally responsible way, which can be damaging to the Amazon rainforest. "That's one of the biggest environmental problems right now because people need to make a quick buck to survive, and they are going to use that land as quickly as possible before getting caught, if they ever do." He is also working on a research project and paper that focuses on the economic viability of cacao, a fruit, as an alternative to cattle ranching.
Carrera is pondering his next move. He's considering studying environmental economics in graduate school or pursuing his dream of working in community-based eco-tourism in the Galapagos Islands, where he says the current economic model is unsustainable.
But he is aware that his achievements are thanks, in part, to people along the way who've helped him. He hopes that one day he can speak with students from his high school. "I think stories like mine are important and can be a source of inspiration," he says. "I think about where I came from and what I've been able to do since I left Brooklyn all the time...Maybe a student in a similar situation will hear my story and say, 'Wow, he did it. Maybe I could do it. He's telling me how I can do it, so I'm going to go for it.'"