We talked to Elie Villeda, an international student in his second year of the Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability, about how he made the decision to come to Monash, what the highlights of the course are so far for him, and what he hopes to achieve through his postgraduate study.
When Mexican Elie Villeda was an undergraduate student in International Relations, a hands-on volunteering position in Uganda in 2011 exposed him to the big environmental challenges communities were facing in that country due an emerging and rapidly expanding oil and gas industry. It was then that he realised he wanted to make a difference in the environmental management and sustainability sector.
Subsequent work at the British Embassy in Mexico, promoting investment opportunities in the renewable energy/environmental portfolio, taught Elie more about environmental challenges. However what Elie really wanted was an understanding of how to put in place the measures that prevent the problems happening in the first place, of how to manage the environment in a sustainable way.
“I knew the technical side of the environmental sector, what you need for wind or solar, or a remediation site … I knew how to respond to it … but I didn’t know how to prevent it,” said Elie.
Melbourne and Monash: a great city to study in, a great place to make connections
“Melbourne’s quality of life … it’s something that is talked about, I really wanted to know why. It was a combination of health, environment, the transport system … and now this goes though the Masters that I’m studying because you get to see everything in a holistic way.”
On the rainy summer day we spoke to him, Elie still thought The Economist got it right, “Yes, I think they were right about Melbourne, it is great” and then laughing, he added, “Even though the weather is sometimes bad!”
Elie was also attracted to the internship opportunities at Monash Arts and the potential to make industry connections, and to use those connections to work in Melbourne after the course and build on his experience.
Field trips: an insight into industry and community
An in-course field trip to the Big Hill gold mine (a 2 hour drive north west of Melbourne) really opened Elie’s eyes to the ways industry is tackling environmental management and sustainability issues in Australia. The mine is very close to the town of Stawell, and since an expansion was being planned, some residents supported the development, and some opposed it.
“It was a really great experience, (the mine is) in the middle of the town, some houses were right next door, and you could see the two positions, the ones who were in favour of the mine … and the people who said it was bad for the environment.”
Elie found the field trip was very well organised, with students being prepared with background information before they visited, and then having plenty of opportunities to talk in open and constructive ways with mine representatives and various stakeholders.
“We analysed the best practice and then what can be done better in the environmental assessment. We met with the mine managers and we gave them our ideas about the site and they were really receptive about it.”
Elie was also impressed by the standard of environmental assessment and energy management in Australia compared with that of his home country Mexico, where the process is still very much in its infancy.
Guest speakers and networking opportunities
Elie has also been asked by program director and teacher Dr Wendy Stubbs to develop current and alumni networks, something he relishes, since he believes networks are one of the most important things for his own and his fellow students future employability and career development.
Elie is running a facebook page to keep students up to date with internship and job opportunities, industry news and insights, and upcoming events. “The facebook page creates a group identity for to be part of something in their future,” said Elie.
Elie is also currently volunteering for Beyond Zero Emissions, and has been invited to help organise events for Australian Energy Associations Young Energy Professional Group. He is finding it easy to balance his networking and voluntary positions with the demands of his degree, saying his study has really helped him hone his time management skills.
Ultimately Elie would like to return to Mexico with a thorough understanding of industry best practice and with some career experience under his belt, so that he can make a difference in the emerging environmental sector in his home country. He is suddenly serious about the challenges ahead.
“My father always said it was important to do something for my country,” and Elie believes with his building experience and knowledge through his study, he will do just that, and we wish him well.