Sandra Mulenga Ponde
- Course: MSc Environment and Development
- Year of graduation: 2018
- Nationality: Zambian
- Job title: Senior Ecologist
- Company: Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Zambia
What have you been doing since finishing your studies?
I have been working at the Head Office of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in Chilanga, Lusaka province, Zambia. This is a Government Department in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts.
The Department I work for is the only Department mandated to conserve and manage wildlife resources in Zambia. It is a department enacted by Act of Parliament and its work involves the protection and conservation of Zambia’s wildlife and improving the quality of life among communities in wildlife estates. It also sustainably maintains biodiversity in national parks and game management areas and hopes to improve wildlife resource management to a level which will secure sustainable flow of benefits from the resources as well as to considerably improve wildlife resource base investments in cooperation with the private sector and local communities.
I have recently been promoted to a senior management position and I am definitely owing this promotion to my newly acquired masters degree in Environment and Development. With this promotion my role will slightly change to where I will supervise and undertake research on wildlife resources in order to provide scientific information for science based management of wildlife resources in Zambia. Even the number of individuals I will supervise will increase!
My recent advanced studies have also led to me been nominated to be the focal point person for REDD+ projects and related activities for the Department. This means that issues on climate change and specifically REDD+ are being handled by me through my director Dr. Chuma Simukonda.
With this nomination I have participated in the validation meeting that was held to finalise Zambia’s Third National Communication to the UNFCCC. I am also part of the technical team collecting and compiling data on how the wildlife sector in Zambia is complying with the Cancun safeguards.
Completing the template on how REDD+ safeguards have been addressed and respected will be very important for Zambia as it will enable the country qualify into the Results Based Payment of REDD+ activities. This is envisioned to be a huge milestone for the country as it will enable local communities in REDD+ designated areas to have alternative sources of income that will inherently improve their livelihoods.
What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career?
I had been working as an Ecologist for three years before coming to Leeds and my Masters positioned me for a promotion to Senior Ecologist. I gained research skills that will make a huge impact to my work. I now have skills to enhance my extension work since I am quite aware of the interconnected nature of environment and development issues so I am equipped with skills to deal with natural resource management in a holistic manner.
It has enhanced my climate change knowledge which has helped me contribute significantly to the subject especially in the wildlife sector where little climate change is talked about in Southern Africa particularly in Zambia. Its only now that the country through the TNC is proposing to formulate the Wildlife adaptation strategy. So, I know my newly broadened knowledge on climate change will be most useful during the process.
Why did you decide to study at the University of Leeds?
It’s an internationally recognised university for its high quality social science research and skills. The Sustainability Research Institute is top class in research work with very helpful stuff always on hand to offer guidance when required. Plus the learning support system like skills at library, language zone and personal development are very useful systems that came highly recommended by my friend and scholarship board (The Beit Trust).
What was the best aspect of studying on your course and at the University?
During the course of the year my ability to think independently while remaining critical improved tremendously. This skill has impressed me very much because the whole teaching is centred around developing an independent thinker out of a student and this has been achieved for me. I am most impressed with the teaching style by University of Leeds staff particularly those from the School of Earth and Environment and Sustainability Research Institute.
Tell us about some of the exciting projects that you completed.
The most exciting project was working on my masters thesis titled ‘Policy coherence between the national policy on climate change and climate sensitive sectors in Zambia’. Its was exciting because it allowed me to employ and put to practice all the knowledge I had gathered over the past year, it’s amazing how much I have learnt and to have to put it down on paper was a great achievement for me.
What does Leeds as a city have to offer students?
Leeds city is a beautiful modern city that has everything a new and international student can learn from. It has diverse culture lots of new things around it’s a place where you will find exactly what you need. Its also surrounded by beautiful old towns and villages so if you are into old architecture and a lover of castles like me, you will love York, Kirkstall Abbey and Knaresborough.
What would you say to students coming to do the same course?
My year at University of Leeds was the best year of my life, it was life changing, fun, insightful and simply amazing. Studying at Leeds is amazing but it’s not for the faint hearted. Remain focused, the research, teaching and learning support system will help you improve and as long as you work hard. You will be better, improve and be among the best. Do not change to fit in, the University of Leeds is very diverse so you will probably find someone who is into what you are into.