But in recent years, she admits, she had started to ponder “What’s next?”
Then last year Aguilar, who is from Costa Rica, was invited to serve as the 2018 Dorothy S. McCluskey Visiting Fellow in Conservation
at F&ES, which allows conservation practitioners — particularly women from developing countries — to spend a semester at the School. In that role, they are free to pursue independent research, to enhance collaborations between F&ES and environmental organizations, and to expand professional training opportunities for students. (McCluskey ’73 M.F.S. endowed the fellowship in 1997.)
When Aguilar arrived in New Haven for the spring semester she expected to complete research on a book, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Instead she found herself working with students on a variety of projects, helping them to organize major conferences and forge connections that will strengthen their own professional opportunities.
In an interview, Aguilar says the experience has left her feeling re-energized about her own work. And it has opened her eyes to the important role that young leaders can, and should, play in tackling the world’s environmental challenges.
What did you envision you would do during your time at F&ES?
For one thing I was very interested in knowing how this School works. What is that makes students want to come here? And from the perspective of an international organization like IUCN, how can we best support the new leaders coming out of universities like this?
Beyond that, when they asked me what I would want to do during this fellowship I said I would like to do some research as a follow up to a book I published in 2002. That book, which came out of my doctoral thesis, was related to how we can support indigenous peoples and local communities to protect their traditional knowledge associated with the use of genetic resources. So I came here to do that research, but the experience ended up being so much more than that. I discovered a whole range of other opportunities.
It’s difficult to even be aware of all the things that happen here. But I have been very privileged and honored to be part of some of the efforts that the School and the students have put together. I have given talks on my research and on issues related to environmental governance, ecotourism, and indigenous peoples. I participated in the TFD [The Forests Dialogue] conference on tropical forests. But the best experience for me has been supporting our students in putting together their own ideas, including the organization of the Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean
What was your role in the conference?
I didn’t even know the SDLAC conference existed before I got here. But when the students asked me to support them, of course I said yes. And it really became a big part of my stay here. I became a co-host, helped with developing the agenda, helped bring in speakers and connect people. But most of all, I gave support to students on how they could coordinate this conference in a way that would benefit them, too.