Avecita Chicchon and Gustavo Fonseca

Tropical Conservation and Development (TCD) Alumni

January 23, 3018

Our alumni spotlight is shared by two accomplished individuals, Dr. Avecita del Carmen Chicchón and Dr. Gustavo Alberto Fonseca.

Both Drs. Fonseca and Chicchón graduated from the University of Florida where they participated in the interdisciplinary Tropical Conservation and Development Program from the Center for Latin American Studies. In December 2017, as recognition for their outstanding achievements, Dr. Chicchón and Dr. Fonseca were awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of Florida.

Dr. Chicchón earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Florida. Her career encompasses over 25 years of innovative work in natural resource use, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, where she has guided the design of major conservation initiatives. Currently, Dr. Chicchón leads the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Andes Amazon Initiative, which is investing $500 million in the protection and improved management of more than 170 million hectares in the Amazon.

Dr. Fonseca earned his Ph.D. in Forest Management and Conservation at the University of Florida. As a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, he developed an innovative interdisciplinary graduate program that was recognized as the top program of its kind in Latin America. In his current role as Director of Programs for the Global Environment Facility, Dr. Fonseca is responsible for a $4.43 billion Trust Fund. 

Can you tell us about your current position and how it relates to Latin America?

Dr. Chicchón: I am the Director of the Andes Amazon Initiative at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Our initiative focuses on consolidating protected areas and indigenous lands across the Amazon for biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and securing ecological processes to mitigate climate change. Currently, we work in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Dr. Fonseca: I am the Director of Programs for the Global Environment Facility, a multilateral funding agency dedicated to helping developing countries with their environmental needs and commitments with the international conventions. Latin America is one of the regions where we concentrate a lot of resources to deal with climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, agriculture, and other pressing needs. 

What aspect of your career have you enjoyed the most?

Dr. Chicchón: What I have enjoyed the most is developing partnerships to conserve nature that have resulted in new protected areas, and to provide alternatives for sustainable development for local peoples across Latin America.

Dr. Fonseca: The ability to navigate different sectors and different parts of society, from academia to government circles, to NGOs and the private sector, all the way to working with public finance institutions. Not being confined to any one of these sectors is a blessing, particularly if you are dealing with the environment and sustainable development. Without that, it is hard to see beyond your own personal field of work.

How did the TCD program and the Center help you prepare for your career?

Dr. Chicchón: The Center helped me prepare for my career in two fundamental ways. One was learning the basic and critical tools of conservation with an interdisciplinary perspective, and the second was by helping me develop a network across Latin America that only a place like Florida can provide. I have traveled across Latin America in different capacities and I have always found a UF graduate in a key position that has helped facilitate my work.

Dr. Fonseca: TCD and the Center provided me with a very wide breath of exposure to different teachers and students from different backgrounds and countries. The ability to have a dialogue across all of these experiences is invaluable and that is something that I didn’t find in other programs. Through this exposure, my work became much richer and much more germane to finding the right solutions for the various problems that we are facing in the environmental arena in Latin America.

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What would you most encourage students to take away from their experience at the Center for Latin American Studies?

Dr. Chicchón: Students at the moment are facing a rapidly changing world. I think it is important to be curious, keep an open mind, learn all the tools the University of Florida provides, and apply them to their work. They need to focus on the goal of their career. It won’t be easy, but it is very important to do the work and adapt even though they will find obstacles along the way.

Dr. Fonseca: Students need to step out of Gainesville and be exposed to how the world operated. I recommend that everyone do fieldwork for their thesis or dissertation. Students should try to put themselves in situations where they experience the different tensions that arise from challenges in the natural resource management or development fields. They can then reflect on and apply their academic training to these experiences, and be informed by the different entities and agencies in the decision making process.

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