Master of Science (Biological Sciences)
Faculty of Science and Engineering
Andrea Dekrout's job tackles two of the biggest issues the world is worried about right now - the refugee crisis and environmental conservation.
She's an Environment Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN agency tasked with ensuring respect for the rights of people fleeing war and persecution and finding lasting solutions to their plight.
Based in Geneva, Andrea's job is to help ensure sustainable environmental management in UNHCR operations and refugee camps, helping UNHCR's mandate to protect refugees by providing a clean and healthy environment and the protection of the host communities they rely on.
"I travel a lot to provide on-the-ground technical support and situation analysis, so tasks will vary depending on the location and nature of the refugee response. I support all kinds of different projects from water protection to erosion control, to the promotion of clean cooking stoves and community-based natural resource management or eco-guarding for biodiversity conservation," says Andrea.
"In all cases my job is to help mainstream good environmental management into whatever is happening on the ground. I really enjoy working with the refugee and host communities to help make sure their environmental concerns are addressed."
Diverse fields, different countries
Andrea's road to the UN has seen her working with cheetahs in Botswana and disadvantaged communities in Papua New Guinea.
In Botswana, she worked on a "critter-cam" project with National Geographic, putting camera collars on cheetahs to learn about their behavious in the wild.
In Papua New Guinea she worked with extremely disadvantaged communities on atoll islands to improve their land use for more sustainable farming and to protect their access to water. She was also responsible for implementing and managing a multi-year climate change adaptation programme and a disaster risk reduction programme.
"The island I worked on was extremely remote, about four hours out to sea. I had a lot of high seas adventures which are maybe a bit more fun in hindsight than they were at the time," says Andrea.
Waikato helped her get there
Andrea says the general and specialised knowledge she picked up at the University of Waikato helped her get to where she is.
"Waikato's promotion of general science studies over early specialisation, especially in undergraduate, gave me a wide range of general knowledge which is especially useful when something random comes up and suddenly an ecologist like me needs to provide sound advice on erosion control or water pollution."
She says she particularly enjoyed eco-physiology and human perspectives chemistry, and "Sustainability", a masters-level paper on how humans impact the environment.
"That paper in particular reflects what I do now, working with refugee operations to address the environmental issues related to forced human displacement," she says.
"At Waikato I was able to work across different biology specialities and so I had an opportunity to work on ecology, animal behaviour, physiology and genetics."
Over the next few years Andrea says she'd like to continue her work at the intersection of conservation, development and humanitarianism.
"My work is so rewarding, but challenging too. Working in different countries requires you to adapt to the cultural and social contexts of new places - which can take time. Working in developing countries puts up logistical and practical constraints for transport, communications and access to resources that you would never encounter in Western settings. But it all adds to the interest."