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Featured Student Friday: Ana Luiza Violato Espada

Every other week, SFRC highlights a fantastic student or alumnus for #FeaturedStudentFriday. Today’s feature is Ana Luiza Violato Espada, a Ph.D. Candidate with a concentration in Tropical Conservation and Development (TCD). Ana, an international student from Brazil, is also in the Latin American Studies certificate program. She is advised by Dr. Karen Kainer and is expected to graduate in August 2020.

What’s the best thing about your current position?

To be in the field as a researcher, practicing my critical scientific thinking and sharing it with government decision-makers, professors, practitioners, forest conservationist activists, foresters’ colleagues, and most important to me, indigenous people from sustainable-use protected areas. Before UF, I used to work with a non-profit organization in the Brazilian Amazon region a practitioner to improve and put in practice public policies related to both forest management and conservation. Now, I am returning to this field as someone that has a huge practical experience but also with a profound theoretical background that UF/SFRC/TCD/LATAM provided to me.


Was there any key thing that set you on the path towards SFRC?

The trees at UF campus! Well, I have several professional colleagues that studied at UF, mainly from LATAM/TCD and some from SFRC. They were the key thing that set me on the path towards UF. Because I always wanted to have part of my graduate experience in the United States I kept UF in mind. But, SFRC was something special because: First, I am a forest engineer and I work with conservation. Second, I contacted my potential advisor, Dr. Karen Kainer, months before applying for the program, and I related to her work, it helped me gain confidence in the UF application process. Third, but not least, I found SFRC to be a really good program because it takes account of a diversity of dimensions (social, political, ecological, economic, others) related to forests resources and conservation.


What drives you? Why is this important or significant to you personally?

Amazonia. It is my inspiration, my motivation, and my purpose of life and work. When I say Amazonia, I am talking about the rainforest, for sure, but also about the huge rivers, the landscape that is mixed with forests, mountains, waterfalls, savannas. I am also talking about the culture, the food, and the wonderful and respectful indigenous people. It is important to me to work towards this multifaceted Amazonia and to contest social-environmental injustices, inequalities, and deforestation.


What were your struggles to get where you are today?

Well, I had some struggles (and still have), but one, in particular, was impactful for me: communication skills. I consider myself a good speaker and I used to participate in several events that required me to speak in front of a lot of people back home, in Brazil. However, since I started my Ph.D. program, I lost a little of my confidence to speak in English, I became shy, and disappointed with me because I knew that I could contribute to several discussions in class, but decided to just listen, I did not have the confidence in myself. The good thing is that UF people, especially from the TCD program and my advisor, always understood the language barriers and supported their students to crash it and improve communication skills. For foreign students coming to SFRC, I would say that we have a very receptive environment to non-English native speakers.


What advice would you give to another student just starting out?

Don’t be shy! If you are doing what you really like to do, if you are dedicating your time at a graduation program with passion and love, trust in yourself because everything will just work well. Trust in the process and enjoy your time at classes, social events, and the beautiful landscape that we have in UF. I love all the trees there!


Do you have any favorite memory of your time at SFRC?

Not just one, but several… When arriving to the Tropical Forest lab in the second floor, smelling wood scents from others labs, passing through posters and reading about research projects, some from several years ago, others more recently, including mine. 🙂


Are you working on anything exciting you’d like to share?

I am developing an embedded multi-case study design to understand what variations in community timber co-management schemes have emerged, and why. The aim is to contribute to the understanding of decision-making processes in community timber co-management and its outcomes (integration of knowledge systems and community empowerment), to provide new information and recommendations for best approaches to conserve forests and improve local livelihoods.

Research sites are three Extractive Reserves: Chico Mendes (Acre), Ituxi (Amazonas), and Verde para Sempre (Pará). Government and local populations co-manage the natural resources within each of these reserves, ranging in size from 776,900 to 1,288,700 hectares. They embody all community timber co-management projects which represent 100% of existing logging schemes in Amazonian extractive reserves.

For Fall 2019, I am returning to Gainesville from my fieldwork season in the Brazilian Amazon. It took 12 months of a great time with inspiring indigenous people and colleagues from the government, non-profit organizations, universities, and research centers. I visited three protected-areas in three different Brazilian states, I met a lot of people, including old friends from forest-based communities that I used to work with, and I learned some much that I am still processing all this amazing experience that I had.

The last part of my fieldwork season will be a community exchange that I am excited to do. I will put together, for the first time, community members from all community timber co-management projects going on in extractive reserves in the Brazilian Amazon. The community exchange will take place on September 18 – 20, 2019, with support of SFRC, TCD Program, and International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) Fellowship.

For further information contact:
Website: (In Portuguese and English)