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Meet 2018 Forward under 40 Award Recipient Paulina Stowhas MS’15

Paulina Stowhas has always admired diversity — in nature, in culture, and in people.

Paulina Stowhas

UW Major: Environmental Conservation
Age: 32 | Santiago, Chile
Veterinarian And Project Facilitator, Island Conservation

Paulina Stowhas has always admired diversity — in nature, in culture, and in people.

Stowhas, a Chilean veterinarian and expert on human-wildlife conflicts, has recently followed her passion for biodiversity to the Juan Fernandez Archipelago: three islands that lie about 430 miles off Chile’s coast. The islands, which have one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world, are known for their biodiversity. They are 61 times richer in endemic plants per square kilometer and 13 times greater in endemic bird richness than the Galápagos Islands.

The veterinarian is working to protect wildlife and remove invasive species from the islands, which are designated a Chilean national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. She’s building partnerships with governmental and community leaders to connect culture and conservation, helping to increase the well-being of the archipelago’s 1,000 residents.

“[The UW] taught me to embrace difficulty and provided me the ability to look beyond the limits, to continue learning, and to know that, with effort and dedication, I can take what I’ve learned to anywhere in the world.”

Stowhas helps people who live on the islands understand why it’s important to ensure that domesticated animals don’t harm native species, and how to be responsible owners of dogs, cats, and livestock. She has also continued collaborating on research to learn more about human perceptions of conflict-wildlife management, focusing on the interactions between farmers and carnivores in southern Chile.

Inspired in part by her learning experiences at the UW’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Stowhas is also expanding opportunities for women in her field, who have found that their careers can be limited by gender bias in developing areas of Latin America. She’s helped design workshops that
empower these women to build professional networks and share their challenges and opportunities, reaching more than 50 women in nine countries.

An active member of the WAA: Chile Chapter and a mentor for current UW students, Stowhas credits her Wisconsin experience for a growing circle of experienced collaborators.

“It definitely marks a before and after in my life,” she says of her time at the UW. “It taught me to embrace difficulty and provided me with the ability to look beyond the limits, to continue learning, and to know that, with effort and dedication, I can take what I’ve learned [on campus] to anywhere in the world.”

Q&A with Paulina

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It was right before a job interview: Be yourself — it should be you, the person they are looking for.

What are you reading now?

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf, which is about Alexander von Humboldt’s encounters with nature in South America. Recommended!

What is the one thing every UW student must do?

Drink beer at the Terrace. Go and look for flying squirrels in winter at Bascom hall.

What advice would you offer to graduating seniors?

Be nice, and keep pushing.

What occupies your free time?

My two dogs and my family.

What was your first job?

It was in a pizza store, selling gourmet empanadas and pizza.

If you could trade places with any person for a week, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be?

I’m really happy in the place, in the country, in the reality, and in the job I am. There are lots of things to do here!

What is your favorite quote?

To be strong it is not necessary to lift a lot of weight. Lifting yours every time you fall is enough. — Unknown

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. —Maya Angelou

Who is your hero? (or who or what inspires you?)

Every single woman who’s fighting for human rights, education, and nature.

What lasting memories do you have of UW–Madison?

The sound of the snow under my feet while I was walking to the campus.

Essay by Paulina

I have always admired diversity — diversity in nature, in culture, and in people. My experiences at the University of Wisconsin impacted my life significantly, launching me on a journey to experiencing diversity in all its expressions. The campus was always a source of enrichment, with endless access to information, lectures, and workshops run by renowned experts in multiple disciplines, and an infinite assortment of instances where art, music, culture, and science were all mixed together in a single place.

My master’s program in environmental conservation and the campus experience were great training for my professional development. The group of professionals enrolled in the master’s program were characterized by being diverse, experienced, and empowered to work in the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable management. The diversity of this group of people was key to developing a conscientious, reflective, and enriching process. Additionally, the UW provided me a platform to network with other national and international actors and gave me the tools to reinforce and strengthen the connections that I already had.

The university was not only a source of professional satisfaction; I also had the opportunity to experience great personal fulfillment. The quality of the professors and students on the campus is unparalleled, and I was blessed to be able to share experiences and expertise. I treasure the relationships I’ve maintained beyond the professional field. Today, I can say that I feel accompanied by friends, mentors, and advisors with whom I remain in close contact and collaboration. I will never forget the people who were a key source of motivation during my time in Madison, including Arlyne Johnson MS’93, PhD’00 and Lisa Naughton ’85, MS’87, to whom I will be eternally grateful for their time, dedication, and mentoring.

It is difficult to describe everything that my experiences at the UW did for me, but it definitely marks a before and after in my life, teaching me to embrace difficulty and providing the ability to look beyond the limits, to continue learning, and to know that with effort and dedication, I can take what I’ve learned at the university anywhere in the world!

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