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News: A GCA Scholarship - A Gift That “Changes Lives”


December 23, 2019

Field Research in Madagascar

“The GCA has given me so much!” says GCA Scholar Camille DeSisto, a 2019 Harvard graduate, currently studying mangrove forests in Ecuador on a Fulbright scholarship. She credits the GCA’s support as “absolutely pivotal” in her development as a scientist and conservationist. Learn how a GCA scholarship changed her life. Camille received the Elizabeth Gardner Norweb Summer Environmental Studies Scholarship in both 2017 and 2018.

This GCA scholarship supported her field research on the invasive strawberry guava plant in Madagascar, including a specific focus on understanding animal dispersal networks, especially among lemurs. Field conditions were difficult, and — as Camille says — “every single day was a new spectacular, ridiculous adventure.” A typical day might have included collecting lemur poop, counting trees, doing the paperwork for field permits, hiking barefoot up a mountain through mud or crossing a river in a dugout canoe, logging data, and picking off leeches. In the evenings she and her co-researchers, field teams of Malagasy technicians and graduate students, returned to camp, where they would discuss the day around the campfire while drinking ranon’apango, Madagascar tea made from burnt rice. 

In addition to what she learned collecting data and applying research techniques, Camille was inspired by her experience to realize that “tropical ecology and conservation is something I’m really passionate about; to be able to study it is a blessing that I had never thought would be possible for me . . . my Madagascar experience and the people and mentors I met there were huge in establishing my career trajectory — I see no other path for me than studying forest ecology.” 

“Support at a pivotal moment in life can make a huge difference, especially in field studies, where there are a lot of barriers, especially for women. The GCA’s scholarship opened a lot of doors for me, not only for my research, but for my personal development as well. The flexibility of my grant enabled me to make the research my own, and that level of independence was invaluable in developing as a scientist and as a student. The financial support obviously was critical . . . but also knowing that I had the support of people who believe in my work made a huge difference, especially in difficult moments. Knowing that I’m part of a community of scientists and conservationists who share similar values is very inspirational. Opportunities like these can change someone’s life, and enable them to contribute to science in powerful ways.”


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