2021 Global Scholar Profiles

The 2020 Scholar Program was postponed until 2021 due to circumstances of the global pandemic. Training for this cohort has pivoted to accommodate these unforeseen events and is being held virtually for the first time ever in the summer of 2021. 

Read below to learn more about the participants of this year's program!

2021 Program Leadership

Dr. Karen Beardsley, University of California Davis, United States (Program Lead) 

Karen works as the Director of Global Professional Programs, Global Affairs at the University of California Davis. Karen has been associated with the SCGIS Global Scholars Program ever since it began around campfire meetings at the James Reserve in the early 1990's. Karen explains, “GIS is not really all about the technology. It’s about connecting people.”   


Leslie Backus, United States/Globally Located (Program Lead & TTT Master Trainer)

Leslie is a founding member of the SCGIS Board of Directors and has been instrumental in the evolution of the Global Scholars Program over many years. She has traveled extensively teaching GIS throughout the world. Her expertise is in geoinformatics and wildlife biology. Leslie recently taught as a professor at the Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan.    


John Schaeffer, Juniper GIS, United States (TTT Founder)

John is a mostly retired GIS Analyst, ArcGIS Instructor, and founder of Juniper GIS. He has been helping people succeed with GIS since 1992. John recalls, “I have been working with GIS and ESRI software since 1993, specializing in training and GIS services for smaller agencies that prefer a more personal approach. I also volunteer training and assistance to conservation groups, especially SCGIS (Society for Conservation GIS) and am interested in more work with groups, anywhere in the world. I have developed extensive course work for using ArcGIS for conservation, natural resource, and environmental issues.” He explains, “I have also been the lead instructor for the SCGIS Scholars program since 2009 and have been working with scholars in Uganda, Russia, South Africa, and Mexico to train them as instructors and to provide classes for conservation groups in those areas.”


Dr. Mervyn Lotter, MTPA Research Station, South Africa (TTT Master Trainer)

Mervyn is a Certified Master Trainer with the SCGIS Train the Trainer program and is co-leading the first ever SCGIS TTT Summit Meeting in 2019. Mervyn is a Biodiversity Planner at the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency in South Africa. According to Mervyn, “our organization has the biodiversity mandate for the province. I developed our systematic conservation plan (together with a temporary coordinator) that has been amazingly instrumental in supporting conservation actions throughout the province.”  

About the history of his work, Mervyn says, “I started as a botanist using GIS to develop species distribution models to overlay models to identify priority areas for threatened plant species, this progressed to basic database management, and the development of our first aquatic and terrestrial conservation plans using a systematic conservation planning approach and Marxan (completed in 2007). I then used output to develop a land-use planning GIS using ArcExplorer 2 and spatial priority layers. This was followed by the development of our provinces first protected area expansion strategy where I determined the spatial priorities for our 20 year strategy. I am currently working on revising our systematic conservation plan by using an updated landcover, new species distribution data, planning units, freshwater priorities, threat layers, etc.”


2021 Global Scholars

Fumika Azuma, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan

Fumika is a Research Technician in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) located on the island of Okinawa, Japan. About her current work, she says, “I am working on the Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI) project, which is a joint study with international collaborators to map the global distribution of all known species of ants (approx. 15,000 species). This is a unique project since mapping at this scale (in terms of the number of species and spatial extent) has never been conducted before for a group of invertebrates.” She describes, another “aspect of my role involves supporting the research unit in various ways, such as through organizing public outreach activities, fieldwork support, handling logistics of conferences and Japanese-English translation.” Fumika notes, “I also enjoy organizing and facilitating conferences as I believe that it is crucial to bring together people with similar interests to discuss ideas.”


Dr. Ana Garcia Cegarra, Marine Fauna Research and Whale-watching Center (CIFAMAC), Chile

Ana describes her objectives as a “co-founder and main researcher of a local NGO called CIFAMAC (Marine Fauna Research and Whale-watching Center)  located in Mejillones, a small city located in Atacama Desert Coast (Northern Chile). The aim is to promote conservation of cetacean species through research and environmental education. CIFAMAC was founded in 2016 by local fishermen and myself with the aim to promote responsible whale-watching and understand abundance, distribution, residency patterns, habitat use and human threats of cetacean species.”

She determines that “the most challenging part of working with conservation is to speak with local authorities about the threats and impacts of human activities, especially pollution in the marine environment, and create the tools to mitigate the threats. We understand that these are problems that should be written in the Chilean Law, but they are not. It is easy to investigate marine wildlife but it is difficult to develop legislation to protect them.” Ana concludes, “the highlight of my work is enabling local communities to understand and become aware of the presence of cetacean species on their coasts.”



Paul Mjema, The Jane Goodall Institute, Tanzania

Paul works for the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania. He reports that the most unique aspect of his current work “is coordinating the Village Forest Monitoring program in the project area, which is one of the longest ongoing community monitoring programs using mobile technologies in Africa. The program serves as a citizen science and crowdsourcing platform by providing monthly presence and absence of wildlife and threats data over the larger area.”  

Paul describes, “my teaching experience has been on GIS capacity building to local authority workers, particularly foresters, natural resources officers, town planners and surveyors, in the four districts where my current project is focused. I am responsible for building their capacity in using various technological tools CAD or manual drawings when performing various mapping tasks. My role has been to help them know how they can use GIS to develop town plans with backdrop satellite images, thus make plans that reflect the reality on the ground.”



Marsha Small, Montana State University, United States

Marsha is a doctoral student in the Earth Sciences at Montana State University. She is a member of the Tsististas (Northern Cheyenne) tribe in the United States. She describes that “Tribal Nations control a vast amount of natural resources-both renewable and nonrenewable and are under impacts from climate change. With other people of like-minded agency, it is my goal to learn GIS and other platforms to better assist The People. It is well-known that environmental racism is real and that NIMBY is a real factor, often leading to marginalized people experiencing higher levels of toxic risks.”

About her current experiences Marsha says, “I work with multiple tribes as an Indigenous liaison. In dealing with multiple sovereign Nations, it requires knowledge of various protocols and histories. I will also be working with two tribes of the same people separated by the international boundary. The Blackfeet (U.S.A.) and the Blackfoot (Canada) are of the same people. But with different policies. This means I will have to learn what barriers and benefits there are to dealing with multiple Nations at a national and international level. Current impacts to the Blackfeet nation are oil and gas drilling. The Blackfeet Homelands encompass a rugged wilderness. It is located next to Glacier National Park (U.S.A.) When dealing with the Blackfoot Nation, the area will be located next to Waterton Lakes National Park. Both areas are rich in biodiversity, sacred sites, and high-risk terrain. The specific approaches I choose to address will be what the Tribes mandate. The work that I do is a personal journey. It is my life’s passion.”


Fabrice Yengong Lamfu, Greenpeace, Cameroon

Fabrice works for Greenpeace Cameroon in the Congo Basin (Cameroon and DRC). About his work, he explains, “In the Congo Basin, we use Key influencers (Musicians, comedians…) to propagate our works, we do community based building in which the community are empowered to speak for themselves in media, we use our volunteers to run most of our petitions, we use maps (participatory and landcover change) as evidence to name and shame the illegalities in the community and we do a lot of investigations and research which I am in charge of the particular case to expose the environmental injustice.”

Fabrice elaborates, “the most exciting activity within my project is GPS points collection with the community members. With this approach, we allow the community to fully participate in the project and gain our trust for information sharing. Since most of our projects are in rural communities, I face lots of problems some of which includes:

  • Poor road access: This could lead to road accidents and delays (passing a night or two travelling).
  • Poor internet connection and local network: In most of this communities, we do not have internet communication and local networks for call.
  • Lack of electricity: most of the community operate using a generator as their source of electricity, making communication difficult.

All the community related problems reflect the context in which we carry out our work. I must confess this is the beauty of Africa where research becomes very difficult.”


Taipuni Ruakere, Te Kaahui o Taranaki Trust, New Zealand

Taipuni is part of the Te Kaahui o Taranaki tribe in New Zealand. He describes that “for many years the environmental and GIS space has been determined and led by government agencies such as the local councils and Department of Conservation. Our tribal voice has not been at the forefront of issues pertaining to our environment and conservation. Nor have we been at the table when significant decisions are made about these areas. GIS provides a powerful tool to address the environmental issues we currently face in our region such as adverse agricultural practices, the impacts of the oil and gas industry, increased carbon emissions and climate change. These areas continue to impact our waterways, ecosystems, our cultural values and the mauri (life force) of Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and our people. GIS is integral in supporting us to transition towards a healthier environment for future generations.”

About his work, Taipuni says, “my office is based outdoors alongside rivers, the ocean and the land. I feel privileged to be able to work in a space that allows me to connect to the environment everyday and to walk in the footprints left by my ancestors alongside my whanau (family).”


Bijayata Rai, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Bhutan

Bijayata works as an entry level staff for the conservation of the Black-necked Crane with the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Bhutan. She describes that “Bhutan is very rich in biodiversity and it takes pride in its conservation practices and its commitments. The Constitution of The Kingdom of Bhutan mandates the country to have at least 60% of forest cover. Bhutan is the home to a lot of vulnerable animals such as Tigers, White Bellied Herons, Snow Leopards, Black-necked Cranes and many more. Despite having strict conservation regulations in the country so many animals are losing their habitat. In the case of Black-necked Cranes, the drying up of wetlands (the main habitat for Black-necked Cranes) and the changes in land-use with the development of an area are threatening their existence.” About her work with RSPN, she says, “I have a strong desire to help the current organization with their research in conserving the vulnerable birds and also improve myself in what I am passionate about.”

Bijayata recently completed a research project entitled ‘Cities by Women – Urban Space, Livelihood and Embedding Climate Change Resilience of Women Street Vendors in Thimphu’. She reports, “for this research, we used GIS to locate the women street vendors in Thimphu city after which we were able to study some of the risks they were exposed to such as climate variability. During this research I got to learn about nightlife of Thimphu, the struggles of women and their ways to tackle with the hardships from changing climate, authorities, harassment. I also got to hear their stories of how they started the informal business and the societal perceptions as well as family problems.”


Induja Gandhiprasad, Auroville Planning & Development Group, India

Induja works for the Auroville Planning and Development Group in India. About her work, she describes, “Auroville is a unique place where the biodiversity, the vegetation and the ecology were regenerated by the early Aurovilians on a barren plateau. This has played a significant role in highlighting the ecological importance of the place and the surrounding areas. The physical setting of Auroville is very interesting where all the water bodies in the surrounding areas are interconnected through water channels such that very little water flows into the ocean. This kind of situation clearly shows us that the conservation and sustainable planning work that we are currently doing and will continue to do can not only be confined to the proposed city of Auroville but also to a much larger region.”

About her experiences, Induja says, “I was naturally interested in the larger planning work (especially environmental planning) despite having an architecture background. This interest drew my attention towards Auroville and its vision in terms of living and planning. Starting from looking at the way Auroville has physically developed and restored a big ecosystem to being an experimental ground for a number of sustainable practices, Auroville has been an inspiration for me and its values very closely matched my interest.” 


Francis Gabriela Ordóñez-Bermúdes, Wildlife Conservation Society, Ecuador

Francis works for WCS-Ecuador. About her background, she says, “My interest in conservation was the main reason I studied geography. Being a geographer has given me the opportunity to see the world. I want to understand where, why and how natural and anthropic phenomena occur. I want to analyze the interrelation of different elements in the landscape, and how they are modified. Sometimes, this interrelation is not visible, so you need to analyze this issue in a holistic way.”

Francis determines that “Working in one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet has its advantages and disadvantages. We still have much to discover and investigate in this area, we do not know much about the state of conservation of some habitats, neither about human impacts on ecosystem services, such as hunting, selective logging and deforestation, and we can only make assumptions. For us it is important to point out the impacts of human activities have on wildlife and how these actions can be stopped by better policies, like having improved control and surveillance programs.”


Azalea Kamellia Abdullah, World Wildlife Fund, Malaysia

Azalea works for WWF-Malaysia providing GIS support for projects within the Sarawak Conservation Programme (SCP). She explains, “For the purpose of ground data collection, I am implementing citizen science for community mapping at the Sarawak highlands where the local community in differing settlements collect the location data of the places of cultural, heritage and livelihood importance to them. This project helps them to ensure that concessions in the nearby proximity are aware of the boundary between the settlement and marks the resources crucial for their livelihood.”

About the challenges of working with GIS in Malaysia, Azalea says, “In Malaysia, the GIS community is distributed rather widely with differing levels of understanding, which makes knowledge exchange challenging and time-consuming.” On learning about SCGIS, she determines, “I believe, to be more effective in my work and deliver actionable output, I have to be part of this wonderful and engaging community.”


Andriy Novikov, State Museum of Natural History of the National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine

Andriy works for the State Museum of Natural History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. About his work, he explains “My current project has the final target to create comprehensive register of localities of endemic plants of Ukrainian Carpathians, to create a database, maps and, finally, to publish an atlas of distribution of endemic plants in Ukrainian Carpathians. Publication of such data will be kind of revolutionary for Ukraine, because up to date there is no such consolidated dataset. Many authors simply misinterpret some taxa, considering them as endemic because of lack of data on their distribution.”

About creating community and participating in SCGIS, Andriy says, “I hope not simply to enhance my skills, but to find the research environment that will help me develop myself as a scientist. I hope to meet the people with similar experience, learn from them and share my ideas with them, to join and to fulfill their community.”


2021 SCGIS Honors Recipients

Cynthia Mapendere, University of Pretoria, Zimbabwe/South Africa

Cynthia is a candidate for the master of science degree in Environmental Ecology at the University of Pretoria. About pursuing her interests, she says, “I have always been passionate about conservation. This is probably because I grew up on the fringes of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. I am constantly on the lookout of opportunities to improve my chances of making an impact in the field of conservation. One of my long term goals is to be an influential figure in conservation practice in Africa and beyond. Thus, I relish the chance to indulge my creative side in the dynamic world of conservation and be able to come up with new initiatives and push for policies that promote effective conservation of wild species in the region and the whole world.”

On perseverance and overcoming challenges, Cynthia determines, “Never let your background define you, you have what it takes when the going gets tough, think about my journey and be inspired to be better off.” See this story which details Cynthia’s incredible journey.  


Daša Donša, The Faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics, Slovenia

Daša is a master of science student of Biology and Ecology with Nature Conservation as well as a technical staff on projects at the Faculty of Natural Science and Mathematics in Slovenia. About her interests, she says, “I was always passionate about nature conservation and I wanted to do more than just study and do my mandatory exams, because as a biology and ecology student I feel that only going to university is simply not enough. Therefore, I started working abroad as a volunteer.”  She elaborates, “Since I started doing my environmental studies, I feel that international cooperation is the best way to acquire new knowledge, that can later be used in your personal work. This is the reason I travel every time I get a chance, because this is the only way to truly understand the way of nature. I am inspired every time I meet someone from a foreign country, through sharing experience with other, same-minded people. As a biology and ecology student, I learned that natural processes go beyond international borders.”