Tom Pienkowski- BSc Environmental Conservation graduate

Although the entire four years at Bangor have been fantastic, I want to focus on the year in industry that I took. Through a little bit of luck, and a lot of generosity from individuals within the department, I was able to arrange an exciting year away; one which helped me secure a position at an NGO in Belize and then an Erasmus Mundus MSc. Scholarship.

I did not know what to expect when I left Kingston airport in Jamaica. I walked out into the sun and despite the long flight I was immediately fascinated by the unique character of the post-colonial island. During the next five months I developed, set up and monitored my own project working within rural communities in the S.W. of the country. This research investigated the positive economic effects of an invasive species in rural livelihoods. This research has recently been published in the Journal of Ecological Economics, co-authored with Dr. Neal Hockley, among others. I left my Jamaican colleagues collecting data while I travelled to central America to help a SENRGy PhD student in the field (before heading back to Jamaica again for another 6 weeks).

I was in central America for three and a half months and during that time we went wild swimming under a waterfall in the jungle, tracked Jaguar, were welcomed into a Maya village, lived in a remote research station in the middle of the Chiquabul jungle and countless other fantastic adventures.

The first months we spent in rural Maya villages in Belize, interviewing and making friends with local farmers and being invited to their New Year celebrations. The next month in Guatemala was equally exiting though very different, meeting community leaders, business men and political activists. The final 5 weeks were spent in the heart of the Maya Mountains in Belize, spending long days trekking through the jungle collecting ecological data surrounded by the sights and sounds of the forest!

All in all it was a fantastic year, and I'd encourage current undergraduates to take advantage of the opportunities available (after a bit of poking around) within the Department.