As a graduate student at American University studying global environmental policy, Amanda Wheat understood the importance of the Amazon from an international perspective. But when she was awarded a Boren Fellowship to study Portuguese and research climate change in the Brazilian Amazon, Amanda gained a deeper understanding of the nuances of climate politics in Brazil. After studying Portuguese full-time for two months in Rio de Janeiro, Amanda moved to Manaus to work with a local non-profit organization, which focused on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Land Degradation). REDD+ is a contentious issue in Brazil. “The world views the Amazon as the ‘the lungs of the Earth,’ but the Brazilian perspective is quite different,” said Amanda, “Rightfully so, they view the Amazon as the property of Brazil, and are wary of allowing the international community to decide what the forest is worth and how to manage it. This experience gave me a deeper understanding of REDD+ and helped reshape the way I view my field,” she said.
Language and field experience are powerful tools to arm yourself with as you embark on a postgrad career.
“Brazil is tremendously important from the U.S. National Security perspective in terms of the geopolitics of the Western Hemisphere , and the Amazon is invaluable to the global climate change conversation,” Amanda argued. Studying Portuguese was a strategic choice for Amanda because it allowed her to apply for research in Brazil. She felt her background in the Spanish language would facilitate her ability to learn Portuguese and successfully conduct her research.
Amanda used her Boren experience to refine her career path, with a focus on the implementation of climate change policy via the U.S. Government. As a Boren alumna she received a Schedule A Hiring Authority, which helped her gain positions in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and USAID’s Office of Global Climate Change.
Today as a climate change specialist with USAID, Amanda works on the EC-LEDS Program, (Enhancing Capacity for Low Emissions Development Strategies), which lends technical capacity to 25 countries to help build national low emission development strategies.
Amanda calls her Boren Fellowship the ‘capstone’ of her graduate education, because it taught her lessons she could not have learned in the classroom.