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Ecology student Malavika Rajeev

Lee Snelling: What has compelled you to be so active during your undergraduate studies?
Malavika Rajeev: From my first year at UGA, I was involved with Ecology Club, which provided support and encouragement by fostering a wonderful community of undergraduates. Ecology Club got me involved in many activities within the club, but also exposed me to external opportunities with other similar-minded organizations.

LS: Why do you feel it’s important to be an active and engaged citizen?
MR: In terms of my own personal happiness and satisfaction, being involved in activities that enact change, even in the smallest way, can be the most rewarding actions. In February 2011, I was able to help organize the Southeast Youth Food Activism Summit, and the most essential aspect of the conference to me, was to be able to see the engagement of the participants and conversations on the issues surrounding our food system. It was incredibly exciting to see new ideas and organizations form, but also individual enthusiasm and excitement as a result of the summit.

LS: How would you describe your generation in general when it comes to getting involved with important issues?
MR: Our generation is often typified as apathetic, but I find this hard to believe, when at the university level, students are working with all types of organizations to move and shake things up. Through my own experiences at UGA, from witnessing the student approved Green Fee enacted to our own campus community garden, UGArden, established, I feel that the students at UGA really are engaged in the issues facing our world today, and are working on them at all levels.

LS: Why ecology as a major?
MR: The natural world is a fascinating place. I chose ecology because of the aspect of exploration that comes with research within the field. We are constantly discovering new and dynamic ideas, trends, and models. And we study the most fascinating systems! From microbes to Monarch Butterflies, our subjects are complex and often not very well understood, and this drives me to delve into the questions surrounding them.

LS: What’s been the most impactful experience for you at UGA?
MR: This past summer, I received an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Fellowship to work with Professor Vanessa Ezenwa at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. It was an incredible experience that taught me about the challenges and rewards of field and lab research. Through exposure to the work that Professor Ezenwa and others are conducting, and a broader understanding of the history of the region, I developed an interest in studying disease in the livestock populations within the area, as they are closely linked to not only the human populations, but also the wildlife. At this area of interface between populations, disease becomes a really fascinating and complex aspect to assess. My goal is to conduct a project exploring this issue in Central Kenya, as part of a Master's project for the dual BS/MS in ecology.

LS: Who have been influential people along the way?
MR: I have to say the the faculty and staff at the Odum School of Ecology have been the most inspiring people. Specifically the two Professors I have worked with, Dr. Sonia Altizer and Dr. Vanessa Ezenwa have influenced my interests in disease ecology and shaped my enthusiasm for research in general. Both have been encouraging and invaluable mentors in terms of my academic pathway. Dr. Pete Brosius, Director for the Center for Integrative Conservation Research, not only broadened my interests, but expanded my worldview. Through taking his class "Conservation and Community" I was introduced the complexities that surround the field of conservation, and have greatly benefitted from not only this knowledge, but also from learning how to communicate with and learn from people in disciplines outside of ecology.

LS: What’s the roadmap for the next few years ahead for you?
MR: Next summer, I plan to return to Central Kenya to conduct my field research for my Master's project, conducting disease testing in livestock. I hope to complete a dual BS/MS in ecology and graduate in May 2013. From there, I eventually hope to pursue a PhD, focusing on disease ecology within human-animal systems, specifically within issues related to conservation.

For more information about Malavika and the Crane Scholarship, see
http://www.uga.edu/cls/students/scholarships/crane_2011.html.



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