ISTF 2017 Leadership

Pooja Choksi (Co-chair):

Pooja Choksi is a wildlife conservationist pursuing her Master of Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is a 2016 Wildlife Conservation Network Scholar and a 2016 Andrew Sabin Environmental Fellow. Prior to her arrival at Yale, she worked on a community based wildlife conservation model in the Pench Tiger Reserve, India. At Yale, she focuses on using spatial capabilities for wildlife conflict mitigation and is particularly interested in species connectivity and creating coexistence landscapes. She works at the Yale Sustainable Food Program (YSFP), the steward of two farms used for learning and research in New Haven. For her masters research she is studying the co-management framework of protected areas management in Belize, Central America to explore the replicability of the  framework to encourage inclusivity in conservation in her home country, India. Pooja continues to work as a freelance writer for environmental and wildlife websites. She holds a bachelors degree in Banking and teaching experience in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, which she fondly calls her second home. Follow her @Poojation.

Michelle Mendlewicz (Co-chair)

Michelle Mendlewicz is a Brazilian environmental lawyer pursuing her Master of Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, focusing on the intersection between business, climate & the environment. In addition to ISTF, she is a Program Associate at The Forests Dialogue, working on multi-stakeholder engagement platforms for sustainable landscapes and zero-deforestation supply chains, and a research assistant at the Center for Business and the Environment. Prior to pursuing her graduate studies, she worked as a legal advisor for the Environmental Agency of the State of Rio de Janeiro (INEA/RJ), and at private law firms primarily with issues regarding environmental licensing, protected areas, and the Brazilian Forest Code. She believes that engaging the private sector is crucial for effectively reducing global GHG emissions and hopes to work with organizations committed to the environment to secure a sustainable future and a deforestation-free planet.  Michelle holds a Law Degree from Pontifícia Universidade Católica of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), where she also completed a specialization program in Environmental Law.

Veronica Chang (Treasurer)

Veronica is a second year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, with a keen interest in tropical forest conservation, particularly in South-America. She is native of Guayaquil, Ecuador, and holds a B.S. in Agricultural Economics. Prior to her arrival at Yale, she worked at Cerro Blanco Tropical Dry Forest in Guayaquil; and at the coastal province of Manabi, Ecuador implementing ecosystem restoration and sustainable farm practices. Here at F&ES, she focuses on tropical forest restoration and management. She has worked as a research assistant for WWF US Forest Degradation Project and as Tropical Resources Institute research fellow, quantifying reforestation successes in the context of cattle ranching in the Dry Tropical Forest of Azuero, Panama. Veronica enjoys traveling, cooking Ecuadorian dishes and dancing salsa. Follow her @Born2VMild.

Irene Montes Londoño (ISTF Student Interest Group Leader)

Irene Montes MFS’17 is a Master’s student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her academic interests at Yale lie at the interception of climate change, land degradation, ecological restoration, agroforestry, environmental services and integrated landscape management. Through her research she is looking to advance in the understanding of the socioeconomic and ecological values of native tree species for restoration forestry in degraded lands of tropical American countries. Currently, she works with Yale’s Environment and Leadership Training Initiative (ELTI) and co-leads the Latin American Student Interest Group at F&ES. Irene holds a Bachelor degree on Environmental Engineering with concentration in water sanitation through restoration of riparian areas and natural infrastructure from Los Andes University in Colombia. She has extensive experience on land restoration for productive and conservation purposes as she worked with her family transforming their farm into an agroecological system while growing up. She has two years of international experience working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in projects aiming to improve the sustainability of the main agricultural commodity supply chains in countries like Paraguay, Peru, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia. She also worked with The Nature Conservancy conducting preliminary research on climate index insurance programs in Africa, Asia and South America, and on agricultural insurance and credit programs for medium and small-holder cattle ranchers in Colombia.

Asha Bertsch (North America Continent Coordinator)

Asha Bertsch is a Master of Forest Science candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, with interests in reforestation, soil conservation, homegardens, and all things tropical agriculture. While at Yale, her research focuses on the role of agroforestry on soil conservation. She spent the summer measuring changes in soil fertility following a five-year agro-successional reforestation project in the Tropical Dry Forest of Panama’s Azuero peninsula. Asha holds a B.S. in botany from the University of Florida. Though her plant ID skills have been fine-tuned in Florida scrub, Utah’s Bookcliffs and Minnesotan savannah, her heart is true to the banyans and cecropia of the tropics. Her experience in agroforestry include projects working in Haiti, India, Panama, and her home state of Florida. In her free time, Asha cherishes gardening, foraging, botanizing, and getting lost.

Bowen Chang (Outreach Coordinator) 

Bowen is a first year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Prior to moving to New Haven, Bowen lived in three different countries and eight different cities; he lived for many years in China, Michigan, Kentucky, Virginia, Ontario, and Pennsylvania. Bowen holds a BA in Environmental Studies and Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, he fell in love with tropical forests through conducting research for his senior thesis at El Yunque Forest, Puerto Rico. Also during college, he spent an entire summer trapping moths in a remote village of 150 people on the Yorkshire moors. He is interested in the deep history of the earth, the geochemistry of forests, as well as green designs that will help improve the environmental health of our cities. 

Erik Ndayishimiye (Africa Continent Coordinator): 

Erik Ndayishimiye is pursuing a masters of environmental management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Born and raised in Kigali, Rwanda, he received his BA of biology from the University of Rwanda. He is interested in community-based natural resources management and wildlife conservation. Erik has experience working both in Rwanda and the United States. Prior to his arrival at Yale, he worked as an assistant on a research on Payments for Ecosystem Services in Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda and more recently worked as a biologist for Maine Audubon. Erik is fluent in French and is a native speaker of kinyarwanda. 


Ethan Miller (ISTF Innovation Prize Coordinator):

Ethan Miller is a first year Master of Forestry candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Ethan spends his time at the intersection of tropical landscape ecology, geospatial analysis, and stakeholder engagement. His research focuses on the question, “how can collaborative spatial planning and multistakeholder engagement improve landscape management in the neotropics?” Prior to starting at Yale, Ethan was a Research Fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama where he studied how drones and aerial photography can estimate biomass and growth in small-scale timber plantations. He holds a B.S. of Environmental Science and a minor in Geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work has taken him to the Yasuni National Park, the Galapagos Islands, the Panama Canal Watershed, and the Esri headquarters in California. Follow him @ethanfmiller.

Gyan de Silva (Outreach and Logistics Coordinator) 

Gyan is a first-year Masters in Environmental Management student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecological Science with Management from the University of Edinburgh in the UK. Prior to studying at Yale, Gyan worked for two years for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Sri Lanka. Here, he was involved in a range of projects related to the conservation of endangered species and critical ecosystems, watershed management and national biodiversity and environmental policy. At ISTF, Gyan hopes to expand his experience and knowledge on tropical forests and to meet and interact with other professionals in the sector so that he can apply what he has learnt on tropical forests in Sri Lanka. In his free time, he enjoys travelling and playing soccer.

Julia Calderon Cendejas (Logistics Coordinator)

Julia Calderon Cendejas has been working for the last two years from academic and non profit sectors in the promotion of community based forest management of communities in tropical, temperate and dry forests in Mexico. She is formed in environmental sciences and currently, she is studying the Master of Forestry where she intends to obtain the technical tools for forest management and expand on environmental justice and agroforestry. With this, she expects to continue working in the implementation and policy making of more just and adaptive forest management in developing countries.

Katherine Kata Young (Inter Institutional Outreach Coordinator)

Katherine (Kata) Young is a tropical agroforester and ethnobotanical horticulturist pursuing her Master’s of Forest Science (2017) in a joint program between the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and The New York Botanical Garden Graduate Program. Kata’s research examines structural and functional characteristics of secondary forest regeneration and agroforestry analogues along the Mata Atlântica corridor in southeastern Bahia, Brazil. She is a Lewis B. Cullman Fellow, a Tropical Resources Institute Fellow, and a 2014 National Truman Scholar Finalist. At Yale, Kata worked for the Environmental Leadership & Training Initiative (ELTI) developing online courses on agroforestry and silvopastoral systems, and is the 2016-2017 MFS Co-Chair for the F&ES Research Conference, and Chair of STIGMA (ethnobotany themed student interest group). Prior to Yale, Kata worked for 10 years on projects related to sustainable development, food sovereignty, and agrobiodiversity conservation with indigenous and/or otherwise marginalized rural communities in Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and Mozambique. Kata currently serves on the advisory board for CocoaCompassion® —an emerging “bean to bar” social enterprise in partnership with Raaka Chocolate, working with cacao cooperatives in Tanzania and Belize  —and KTK-BELT— an NGO in Nepal that seeks to leverage place-based education, community-based conservation, and sustainable livelihoods integration to create a continuous forest corridor from Koshi Tappu (67 m.) to Kanchanjunga (8,586 m.), the third tallest peak in the world.  She holds a B.S. in International Agriculture & Rural Development from Cornell University.

Laura Calderón (Latin America Continent Coordinator): 

Laura Calderón is a Master’s student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her studies and research focus on land use policies and market incentives to solve conflicts at the intersection of natural resource management and poverty alleviation. She is currently working on a project that evaluates the potential that payment for ecosystem services scheme that incentivizes land use changes to increase water yields in the Panama Canal. Laura is native from Colombia and holds a B.A. and a M.A. in economics. Her experience includes evaluating social and environmental policies for Fedesarrollo - a Colombian think tank; analyzing urbanization policies in Burundi as consultant for the World Bank; and evaluating a revenue sharing policy to promote conservation in Rwanda, for the Wildlife Conservation Society. In her free time, Laura loves to backpack and to ride her bicycle to be in direct contact with nature and people that inspire her work.

Leonora Pepper (Alumni Outreach Coordinator):

Leonora Pepper is pursuing a Master of Forestry at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where her academic interests are divided between silviculture and forest management in the northeastern US and the intersection of restoration and sustainable food production in tropical forests. As a 2015 Fulbright scholar, Leonora lived for nine months in northern Brazil studying traditional açaí production in riverine communities in the Amazon estuary. With the support of local collaborators at the Federal University of Pará and at Peabiru Institute, she investigated the place of small-scale forest-grown açaí within the regional economy and growing global market, as well as approaches to certification most suited to this traditional production model. Leonora currently works at Yale’s Environmental Leadership & Training Initiative (ELTI) and as a Spanish and Portuguese language partner for Yale’s Fields Language Program. Prior to coming to F&ES, Leonora coordinated a jobs program for Boston youth built around urban forest stewardship. Past experience also includes implementing research and field trials on smallholder coffee plantations in Colombia, Rwanda and Honduras. When not in school or in the field, Leonora enjoys long-distance bicycling, Brazilian percussion, and teaching her dog to untie knots. Leonora holds a BA in Economics from Smith College. 

Liz Felker (Logistics Co-director):

Liz Felker is a Master of Environmental Science candidate from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her academic interests include the social dimensions of environmental management, especially with regard to land and resource access, and environmental justice. She currently assists Professor Amity Doolittle on monitoring and evaluation of TFD’s Land Use Dialogue platform. Through Yale’s Landscape Lab, she also helps maintain a temperate agroforest. Prior to Yale, Liz worked as a research consultant for CIFOR in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, and on a production vegetable farm in Nashville, TN. She received her B.S. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management with a minor in Forest Management from UC Berkeley.

Nadine Syarief (Logistics Co-director)

Nadine Syarief, from Jakarta Indonesia is a mid career Masters in Environmental Management student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She currently holds a Master in Communications Science degree and has focused the last 8 years of her professional life on corporate sustainability and communications. She is the founder and executive director of LeafPlus, one of the first communications agencies in Indonesia to focus on sustainability. With this cross-sectorial enterprise, for the last 5 years she has helped spearhead efforts to mainstream sustainability and relevant behavior by developing communication strategies and tools for clients that range across the public, private and civic sector. Some of the areas she has worked on include sustainable cities, education, climate change, sustainable commodities, biodiversity conservation and forestry. Before LeafPlus, she worked with the sustainability team at The Body Shop Indonesia headquarters helping to develop this retailers’ environmental management strategy in its Indonesia operations. Nadine is exploring F&ES and greater Yale to access practical frameworks and toolkits needed to effect real change and deepen her understanding in areas of sustainable sourcing and supply chain management (in consumer goods, food and agriculture sector) especially in commodities driving deforestation and trends in corporate sustainability. All these sectors represent developing opportunities and pressing challenges in Indonesia, where she ultimately wants to continue to play a role.  

Olivia Sánchez Badini (Photo Contest Coordinator):

Olivia Sánchez Badini is pursuing a joint Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and an MBA from the Yale School of Management. She is focusing on ecohealth (the connection between human health and nature) and ecosystem service valuation within urban contexts. At Yale, much of her activities revolve around environmental communications: she is a Communications Fellow at the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, Programming Director for the Environmental Film Festival at Yale, and Co-founder and Co-director of the Tandem Language Café language exchange program. She is also a Manager for CBEY’s Nature’s Returns webinar series on conservation finance. Olivia holds a BSc in Natural Resources Conservation from the University of British Columbia. She is an active member of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA), having advocated for youth involvement in international forest policy negotiations at the United Nations Forum on Forests and having organized the largest international forestry student conference in the world, the International Forestry Students’ Symposium, in 2014. Other experience includes work on forestry, climate change, and corporate engagement projects in Mexico, Chile, Canada, Austria, Serbia, Singapore, and South Korea. She is passionate about animal rights and plant-based living, and enjoys drawing, photography, and scuba diving. Follow her @oliviabadini

Sabrina Szeto (ISTF Innovation Prize Coordinator)

Sabrina Szeto  graduated from FES with a Master of Forestry degree in May 2016. This summer, Sabrina worked as an apprentice forester at the Yale-Myers Forest in northeast Connecticut, implementing silvicultural prescriptions that balance financial returns with wildlife habitat and future regeneration. She was the resident mapmaker for this summer’s crew. Since September, Sabrina has been working as a geospatial analyst at the Ucross High Plains Sustainability Initiative, a research center at Yale focusing on land management and ecosystems in the American West. At FES, Sabrina developed an expertise in spatial tools like remote sensing and GIS for land conservation and sustainable use. She has a background in energy efficiency and finance, having worked at a community development financial institution prior to coming to Yale. Sabrina is from Singapore and holds a B.A. in Anthropology with a certificate in Linguistics from Princeton University. She enjoys folk music, hiking, learning new languages and traveling. 

Weiyang Zhao (Asia Continent Coordinator):

Weiyang Zhao is a first year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is from Guiyang City, China. She graduated summa cum laude in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics from Colorado State University with the Senior Achievement Award, and she also holds a B.S. in Finance. Her academic interests include biodiversity and conservation science, environmental or ecological economics, social ecology, global change science and policy, business and the environment, and international development. Her professional work experience includes internships at the IUCN Asia Regional Office (the Mangroves for the future-MFF Sino-Viet Nam Transboundary Project; Eco Forum Annual Global Conference Guiyang 2015,2016; 6th IUCN Asia Regional Conservation Forum; and 1st World Forum on Ecosystem Governance), and the IUCN Pakistan Country Office (China Pakistan Economic Corridor-CPEC Program, Pakistan Climate Change Program and Gwadar Bay Meeting). In her free time, Weiyang enjoys traveling, playing volleyball and visiting art museums.