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Graduate Students - Vanessa Levesque

Vernal_Pool_5-12-73269Graduate Research Assistant, Sustainability Solutions Initiative
PhD Student, School of Economics
University of Maine

What problem/s are you working to solve?
I’m particularly interested in the opportunities and barriers to municipal adoption of sustainability policies in Maine.

What progress are you making toward solutions?
The town, state, and federal stakeholders that I work with have been meeting for about two years to develop locally tailored vernal pool regulations that would allow for decreased vernal pool protection in designated growth zones in exchange for increased vernal pool protection in specified rural conservation areas.  I’m currently assisting with an economic analysis of different policy alternatives.

How could your findings contribute to a more sustainable future in Maine and beyond?
Maine is know to be a “home rule” state, where municipalities have the right to govern their territories in any way that isn’t prohibited by state and federal regulations.  As such, a sustainable Maine must consider the roles that are reasonable and appropriate for municipalities as we reach for that goal. The lessons learned here in Maine should be applicable to any home rule state, especially those in New England, and will contribute to a greater understanding of sustainability solutions at local levels.

Why did you decide to join SSI?
I have been interested in interdisciplinary, stakeholder-driven research ever since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.  My master’s degree in natural resource planning looked at how science and values come together in dam removal debates, and SSI provided a perfect opportunity to continue in that vein of research.  In particular, I was attracted to the position on the vernal pool team because of the focus on economic analysis, a field in which I had limited knowledge.

What’s the best part about collaborating on SSI research projects?
I have already learned a tremendous amount from the multiple disciplines and experiences of the folks I collaborate with at the university, town, state, and federal levels.

Where’s your favorite place in Maine?
I have so many! I’ve lived in Maine for almost eight years now, and have a favorite spot for every mood and season.  I absolutely love living in Portland, and one of my favorite overnight backpacking locations is the Bold Coast in Cutler.

What’s your ultimate Maine experience?
I love swimming in the ocean. Yes, it’s cold, but it reminds you that you’re alive!  I’m part of a swim group that does open-water swims all summer (wearing wetsuits), which gets me in the ocean on a regular basis.

Mud season survival strategy?
I’m on the vernal pool team – I’ve got to get out in the rain and mud to those vernal pools! That, and go for a short visit to see my mom in Florida over spring break.

What sustains you?
Being balanced in life – working hard when it’s time to work, exercising regularly, getting outside as much as possible, being creative when time permits, lazing around with my pets, and connecting with friends and family.

Additional information on Vanessa and her SSI team

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