Virginia Gorsevski’s career path might seem like an unconventional one, but it has provided her with opportunities to travel the world and help protect the planet from multiple threats.
A Colorado native, Gorsevski (GEOG M.A.’05, Ph.D. ’12) spent nearly ten years working in Washington, DC for federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) where she supported and developed projects and programs focused on climate change, energy efficiency and renewable energy. After a decade in the workforce, Gorsevski decided it was time to go back to school.
“I knew the policy issues and I had managed various domestic and international programs, but I wanted to gain some practical technical skills in GIS and also learn more about the science behind the policy,” Gorsevski said.
That quest for technical training led Gorsevski to the University of Maryland Department of Geographical Sciences, where she completed both her master’s and doctoral degrees. In particular, she was drawn to the department’s focus on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing and how these tools could be applied in the field of conservation.
“I think with this being my second time around (taking college courses), I got much more out of it because I had real-world experience I could apply,” Gorsevski said.
While studying at UMD, Gorsevski traveled to war-ravaged South Sudan to research the impact of conflict on forest cover and wildlife. She first went to Juba in 2006 after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as a volunteer to gain exposure to government officials and learn more about the country and what was happening there.
“I had never seen anything like it—no paved roads, land mines everywhere,” Gorsevski said. “I was just so interested in this whole dynamic between conflict and the environment – both how natural resources contributed to fighting and also how war affected the landscape. It was fascinating to me.”
After completing her degrees, Gorsevski found it challenging to get back into the workforce full-time after being absent for many years. Yet, she persisted in applying to various consultancies and working under short-term contracts. Now, Gorsevski works as a Program Officer for the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP)—an independent group of scientists that advises the Global Environmental Facility, a partnership of agencies from around the world that fosters and finances projects designed to address the most challenging environmental issues.
Working at the intersection of science and policy is something Gorsevski finds rewarding and, she says, wouldn’t have happened without her degrees from the University of Maryland. She also hopes to see more graduates from the Department of Geographical Sciences getting involved in environmental issues like climate change and biodiversity.
For Terps from the Class of 2018 preparing to enter the workforce, Gorsevski advises them to be patient and work hard.
“The ideal situation is to end up doing something you like and also something you are good at,” she said. “While you may not find yourself in the perfect spot immediately, if you stay true to your interests and commit to keep learning, eventually you will get there.”