Tanya Williams (2nd Quarter, 2009)

Tanya Williams
2nd Quarter, 2009
Liberal Arts Scholarship

Tanya Williams-Thompson of Belize, Central America, holds a B.A. in Speech Communication from Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa and is presently completing a Masters Degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Her interest is in Environmental Policy in the context of Latin America. Tanya is the mother of two daughters, 4 years old and 1 week old and has pursued graduate school full time while taking care of her 4 year old daughter. She is currently working on her thesis which presents on “The Effectiveness of Payment for Environmental Services on the Deforestation Rate of Latin America’s Forests.

A Portion of Tanya’s Winning Essay:

I turn from my computer for a quick minute at the insistence of my three year old daughter who wants me to watch her as she balances her Princess tea cups in a climbing “tower” on the dinner table. I cannot help but noticed the analogy of her “teacup tower” to my life at the moment. It is a delicate balancing act of an international student trying to be a mother and high achieving graduate student.

Tanya Williams

After a little while, my daughter bounces the table legs and the tower collapses. We make a joke about it and pick up the teacups. That is the lesson I teach her everyday and it is my mantra: your stumbles and your falls are only failures when you refuse to get back up.

In 2008 at the age of 33, 10 years after completing my undergraduate degree and after six years of trying to pursue further education, I was finally able to pursue graduate studies in Science, Technology and Public Policy, focusing on Environmental Policy. I am currently in my second and final year of this programme. If it was not for my mantra I would not have been here and would have given up a long time ago. In fact, if it were not for my mantra, I would never have been in the field of Environmental Policy and found my passion in life.

After completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, I pursued a career in Journalism, the field that was supposed to be my dream career. Two months after working in the actual field, I was disillusioned by the cold, detached daily job of presenting information: deaths, environmental news as a feature package that could be axed if the news ran over time, etc. Admittedly, I had the fervor of most young college graduate who believe they can change the world or at least their country. After years of dreaming the journalist dream, I was burnt out in two months and felt emotionally detached from what should have been my long-term career. The drowning death of a toddler was the final straw as I openly cried on camera as I felt that I was using the mother’s pain not to educate but simple to satisfy a TV audience.

I walked away a difficult step considering the college loans waiting to be paid. I chose to teach English and English Literature in a high school whose management was passionate about nurturing its students, who were largely from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods, into future leaders of the country. It was an opportunity for me to make a difference; in the end, the students rejuvenated my spirit and the teaching opportunity led me to apply for job in the environmental sector, educating the public about coastal environmental issues. With the second largest barrier reef in the world, Belize, my home country, is rich in natural resources but a poor, developing country nonetheless. Those natural resources are often undervalued and therefore over-utilized. This agency was seeking to educate the public on the value of the resources and promote best practice use through policy recommendations to the Government.

In a few weeks, my rejuvenation was at full tilt. I was able to use the skills which had lent itself well to journalism, but now I could really change my country. I worked hard at this job and was soon immersed in the public policy field. I spent 5 years at this agency and then moved on to the role of environmental advocate with Belize’s largest non-profit environmental organization, the Belize Audubon Society. I had found my place public policy, specifically environmental policy and I took a break from seeking scholarships to continue my studies, to build on this career and to start a family.

Through these work opportunities, I have participated in various parts of the public policy process at various levels of Government. Prior to leaving to pursue graduate studies, I spearheaded a set of published environmental policy recommendations and drafted activities to influence government on their implementation. While being a part of the decision-making process is indeed a rung on the success ladder, the most successful activity I have participated in are those where policy recommendations have strengthened a community’s ability to improve their living standards through wise use of their surrounding environment.

Here at RIT, I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue both the theoretical and practical application of public policy tools. I am far more excited though to get on the ground in my home country Belize and apply those tools to effect change in environmental policy and enrich the lives of those who are so dependent on these resources for their livelihoods. In returning home, I will pursue work in the policy office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Belize’s barrier reef and vast areas of forested protected areas are critical carbon sinks as the world grapples with solutions to the effects of climate change.

The environmental policies created must continue to protect these carbon sinks but must also ensure that the Belizean people come out of poverty. This is a complex and critical policy problem to which I would like to contribute the best policy options to find an equitable solution. I further plan to seek public office to be effective in affecting change as I believe my journey and their speed bumps and detours to this place, is for a purpose.

My daughter sleeps right now, as she comes to the tail end of the flu. We have both missed classes and my friends are worried that I will fall behind in my academics, but as I type this essay, it is her future that continues to inspire me. Her future in a country where, how the natural resources are allocated, use and distributed will determine whether the adjective, poor, continues to precede the word developing. That’s where her future lies, so despite the missed classes and the tons of work to make up, I repeat my mantra: I stumble and fall (right now my knees are bleeding), but I will fail only if I refuse to get back up. And I shall walk with her future guiding my way.

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