Natural resources ecology major, interned as NGO director in Madagascar
- By Megan Morley Thomas
Ralph Rogers, natural resources ecology major, has a knack for finding unique opportunities and jumping in with both feet. When choosing a university, Rogers knew he wanted to study abroad (UVM is 5th in the nation among public doctoral universities for study abroad participation). He knew he wanted to have experiences outside of his classroom that would allow him to receive academic credit (UVM places a strong emphasis on learning by doing). Though he didn't have running a non-governmental organization as a junior studying abroad on his list, the opportunity presented itself and Rogers jumped. Or technically, ran.
"I was studying abroad [in Africa] and realized toward the end that I wanted to stay longer," says Rogers. "So I ended up getting a small grant for summer work from the Rubenstein School [the Kate Svitek Memorial Scholarship]." While on a guided tour in Madagascar, he met a man who ran the Honko Mangrove coastal tree protection NGO there. The man had mentioned that he needed someone to take over for him as director for the summer. But Rogers had been in the bathroom and missed him. When he emerged, someone on the tour told him that the man had walked into the village so Rogers ran down the road into the village to find him. He landed the job.
The director stayed on for one month during which time he explained the finances and projects of the NGO to Rogers. He then left for South Africa where his wife was having a baby leaving Rogers in charge.
"The mangrove is a valuable resource," says Rogers of the distinctly saline woodland tree that grows along select coastlines. "It keeps fish healthy, keeps the coral reef healthy, and is important to the ethnic group." The mangrove organization's main objective is to show the local Malagasy people there that there is a sustainable way to live without destroying a mangrove environment.
"You just pick it up."
Rogers' job -- conducted mostly in French -- oversaw all facets of the NGO. He directed the three staffed guides, organized tourist visits, planned a giant international mangrove party between the five local villages. In addition, Rogers set up a soccer tournament to promote Honko.
"The best way I've learned stuff is by just doing it," says Rogers, who says he also appreciated that UVM gave him academic credit for his African experiences. "When i was in Madagascar I didn't have any experience running an NGO or in finance, but you just pick it up. it's kind of rough for the first little while, but you pick it up."
He hopes his life after UVM will lead him back to Africa and possibly in a career pursuing human health. But his time at UVM and related experiences made their impact. "For me, UVM was great because I was able to try new things. Working in the field through classes … just having exposure to things."