Fiona Hogan is a fiscal assistant with the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, leaving next week to work on her master’s project in Mozambique. We interviewed her about her journey.
What’s the story with your master’s work?
When I joined the department I was finishing my BA degree and I worked part time. I got a bachelor’s in linguistics, then I graduated and got a full time job with WEC.
I worked here for a little bit before I was given the opportunity to use the Employee Education Program, which let me take two classes per semester for free!
I got into grad school, and have been going part time for the past two years while working full time!
What is your master’s about?
I am in the Master’s for Sustainable Development Practice Program. It’s interdisciplinary between Latin American studies and African studies. When I first entered I was more interested in socio-linguistics and gender equity, but being at WEC for the last few years I’ve now become more interested in conservation.
The program is very broad, a lot of people do very different things.
Today’s your last day working here, so where are you going next week?
I’m flying to Turkey and will be there for nine hours, we’ll see if anything comes of that, and then I’ll be in Mozambique for eleven weeks, working in Maputo Special Reserve, which is about an hour and a half south of the capital of Mozambique. I’ll be working in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area there.
What are you doing there?
I’m going to be working with the Peace Parks Foundation, a transnational organization that was actually founded by Nelson Mandela. They do conservation of biodiverse areas, and are also interested in sustainable development.
They start these community development programs in the communities that surround the preserve (and some are in the preserve, actually). They’re trying to give these people opportunities that don’t involve depleting their natural resources.
Mozambique went through a really long civil war. There’s a lot of poverty there and not much economic opportunity, so they’ve started a couple different programs and projects to facilitate that.
Some of them have to do with health, others are agricultural. I’m going go talk to these people, see what they think of the program, and provide feedback for Peace Parks.
What’s the connection between linguistics and human development?
I went into linguistics because I liked problem solving. I really liked all the variation, and the differences between people and how they think and how that comes out in language. I got a minor in African studies. Africa has more languages than anywhere else on Earth. It’s just incredibly compact. Everybody there is multilingual.
It has a lot to do with communication, and that was what I was interested in.
I was always interested in development, because that’s what my parents did. Growing up we moved around to a lot of different countries.
It was a little bit of a switch, but in my mind the two fields are closer than they might seem to others.
You grew up moving between a bunch of different countries?
I grew up in Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, then Botswana in southern Africa, then I went to high school in Curaçao, in the Caribbean. It’s a Dutch island. Then I came to Gainesville in 2010 to start my bachelor’s.
I’ve been here since then. I did get to do a study abroad in Spain for a semester, and I also did a summer project with an NGO in Kenya—that was great!
Do you have any advice for people interested in doing something similar to what you’re doing?
Talk to everybody! Don’t be shy about being passionate about something. That’s what people respond to.
Working here, the reason I got involved in conservation stuff more, was because I was talking to all these professors and grad students, and seeing all the cool work they were doing. Even if I was just processing travel, it was very inspiring. It opened up a lot of opportunities for me. I think people are nervous to make connections sometimes between departments or disciplines, and there needs to be more of that collaboration and communication.
Go to events, go talk to people, strike up the conversation, go have that meeting!
Thanks to Fiona Hogan for sitting down with us.
This interview is by Rhett Barker, and has been lightly edited for clarity.