Wildcats@Work with Amy Van Nice

Amy Van Nice '99 was drawn to the UA's Interdisciplinary Studies program, which allowed her to major in Asian studies, French and political science. She now works in wildlife protection, counter trafficking and environmental education in Cambodia.

What is your current career?
I have been working at Wildlife Alliance in Cambodia for 10 years — 10 years! I am the deputy director and serve as technical adviser for our mobile environmental education team, which is currently the only one of its kind in Cambodia. I am actively working myself out of a job by building the capacities and management skills of the team to fully run itself. The Cambodian National Curriculum lacks an environmental component so we are working closely with relevant government agencies to develop an environmental module and integrate it into every national school.

The role of the education team plays an important part in the overall picture of what we are doing here — wildlife and habitat protection, or more specifically, combatting wildlife trade and deforestation. We work closely with the Cambodian Forestry Administration, Ministry of Environment and Military Police to respond to wildlife and forest crimes, implement wildlife laws, raise awareness about the wildlife trade and what is causing it – wild meat consumption, wildlife parts for medicinal purposes, and demand for ivory. We also raise awareness of Cambodia’s role in the wildlife trade, the dire consequences this black market trade is having on the planet and, most importantly, what people can do to protect their natural heritage. 

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Every day is different and more often than not my to-do list gets completely derailed in order to respond to the latest crisis or obstacle. I would say quite a bit of what I/we do is reactive. A typical day could involve working in rural classrooms only accessible by a raft to teach students about wildlife, followed by training sessions for their teachers on core environmental concepts and sharing materials that they can then utilize in their classrooms. The typical day may also feature a field trip for rural students, their teachers and community members to the wildlife rescue center at which we operate. These trips give participants the opportunity to not only see wildlife they may never have seen but also see first-hand victims rescued from the wildlife trade, understand the impact of human (in)action and make that vital human-animal connection.

The evening may hold a Community Night Show where we set up on a school campus, on the grounds of a pagoda, or a dirt field and host a fun, educational family event that features interactive presentations on wildlife and the laws in place, a Q&A session where villagers can win prizes, and environmentally-themed movies and documentaries. Otherwise, I can be found chained to my desk in a never-ending cycle of proposals and donor reports! Fundraising is a constant theme in this line of work and is about the only constant in an otherwise unpredictable schedule.

How did your time at the UA prepare you to make networking connections and succeed as a professional?
The UA was a very special place for me. I only attended two years — sophomore and senior years — but the academic flexibility was exactly what I needed. I came in as a transfer student and when I heard about the Interdisciplinary Studies program, which allows three subject areas, I thought, "BINGO!" I was interested in so many areas and in my previous school I could not see a way to combine them in depth. I immediately knew the UA was right for me. So right for me, in fact, that it is because of the UA that I transferred again junior year.

While walking down the halls of the Modern Languages building on my way to class, I found a flyer promoting a great program in Washington, D.C. and abroad, which complemented each of my three subject areas so I went for it. For me personally, the fact that the UA is so diverse academically and embraces a wider, out-of-the-box approach really prepared me for the working world and so much more.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of career advice I have ever been given, which was from my all-time favorite professor who also holds a senior position in a key European institution, is when in doubt or especially when in between jobs, TRAVEL. You can never go wrong with that. Whether it is the town next door or clear across the globe, the experience and life lessons that you will gather along the way will always serve you. Plus if you are struggling to find a job, why not look overseas? I promise you it will be an adventure of a lifetime!