Friday, May 2, 2014

Lynch prepares for Peace Corps service in Togo

Master's International Program graduate student Lauren Lynch will soon depart for Peace Corps service in Togo, a country in West Africa, but first she is going on a whirlwind tour of Alaska.

Her classroom studies end May 9 and on May 12 Lynch will begin 10 days of traveling with the Natural Resources Management 290 field trip, serving as the expediter. Students will visit Harding Lake. a dairy, a pellet mill, bison and yak ranches, fish hatcheries, glaciers, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Eagle River Nature Center, Alaska Chip Factory, Denali National Park and Usibelli Coal Mine. They will see the Kenai Fjords National Park by boat. "I'm so excited to go on this trip," Lynch said.
Lauren Lynch

Lynch, who hails from Ipswich, Massachusetts, earned a degree in natural resources management and biology at Amherst College. She knew she wanted to earn her master's degree while serving in the Peace Corps and when she studied the schools with MIP programs and found the University of Alaska Fairbanks everything fell into place. Being awarded a MIP fellowship sealed the deal.

Lynch knew she wanted to study natural resources management and she thought the Peace Corps would help her learn about working with people and how to make sure that her research is relevant to people. "The Peace Corps is a good opportunity to make sure what I do is useful in some way."

"I love UAF," she said. "The classes are really good and Susan (Todd) and Tony (Gasbarro) are really good. It's a really nice group of people here. I like the grad student community and everyone in this department." During her 10 months in Fairbanks, Lynch has enjoyed skiing on the UAF trails, doing Capoeira and hiking.

Students at Pearl Creek Elementary School made this collage of haiku poems about birch trees for Lauren Lynch.
While taking the natural resources management graduate seminar in the fall, Lynch was encouraged to volunteer as a service learner in the nearby public schools. She has been at Pearl Creek and Watershed schools, helping elementary students plant trees, keep scientific journals, collect seeds and tap for birch sap this spring. "I was very impressed that the kids knew what to do," she said of a recent tapping event in the forest at Pearl Creek.

Upon learning her assignment would be Togo, Lauren had to do a quick Google search. She learned it is next to Ghana and is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation. French is the official language.

Lynch's area of research is sacred groves, areas of forests managed by communities for religious and social reasons. "First I want to get to know my community and integrate," she said. "And make sure the projects I do are what people want, are initiated by the community and can be sustainable."

From reading about Togo Lynch learned that many areas are deforested. "That's one reason it's particularly important to understand sacred groves, where they often have better protection than official parks. It says something about the community management or the religious aspects."

Lynch is interested in forests, but her heart is drawn to birds and other wildlife so she'll be noting them in Togo too.

"I really want to get at the human element," she summed up.

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