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Global connections to address climate change

By Teresa Leonardo PhD, 2007-09 AAAS Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade, Office of Environment and Science Policy

It was early 2005 and I sat at my lab bench extracting aphid DNA and muttering to myself “How can I study symbionts at a time like this?” The wars and escalating tensions in the Middle East, the Asian tsunami, and increasingly ominous projections related to climate change, had put me ill at ease. While I loved many aspects of my research life and was still fascinated by the questions I was studying, it increasingly felt like the world was crumbling around me while I played in the lab, spending years finding answers to questions that were far from relevant to the major challenges of the day.

As a grad student I had heard about the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowships and had resolved to apply once I finished up my postdoctoral position. In September 2007, I arrived in Washington, D.C., to begin my AAAS Fellowship on the Global Climate Change team at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It was exactly where I wanted to be. Eager to get started, I walked in on my first day curious about how I would find this rather large turn in my path and whether it would engage me enough that I would stay beyond the first year.

The ensuing two years were a whirlwind of activity, and definitively set me on a new career course – one that satisfies both my intellectual curiosity and my desire to affect positive change. I’ve also accumulated new experiences and frequent flier miles faster than I ever dreamed possible. At one point I touched down in five continents in thirty-four days!

I’ve visited remote villages in Madagascar to talk to community members about climate impacts; I’ve served as a trainer in Panama and Thailand for USAID courses on Environment & Natural Resource Management, and Forest & Climate Change; I’ve had meetings with scientists in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, trying to find ways to better link the United States and international science communities and better engage USAID in science; and I’ve met with government officials in Ecuador to discuss their needs related to climate and carbon market policy, and to offer US assistance. And, while based in Washington, working in the fast-paced scramble of the federal government and helping respond to a multitude of requests and demands, I’ve gained insights into the formation of U.S. policies and development priorities.

These and other experiences made my time as a Fellow both highly challenging and incredibly fulfilling. While the fellowship is over, the adventure continues; I am delighted to be building on my experiences as a Fellow in my new position at the USAID regional mission in Thailand, where I am continuing to focus on climate change and international science cooperation.

January 2010: Teresa Leonardo, PhD, is now working at the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia in Bangkok, Thailand, where she is leading efforts to establish an Asia Regional Center of Excellence on Climate Change & Development.


Disclaimer: The perspectives and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, the U.S. Government, or the U.S. Agency for International Development.