International Student Ambassadors

The Natural Resources Science and Management (NRSM) International Student Ambassadors are international students in our program who are willing to provide advice and guidance to prospective international applicants. See below for more information on our ambassadors and their backgrounds. Our ambassadors will provide advice regarding: finding advisors, applying to UMN, campus climate, international student resources, etc. Please note that they cannot answer questions regarding visa requirements and legal issues, and will not review any application materials. 

If you are interested in contacting our International Student Ambassadors, email with your questions. If you're hoping to connect with specific individuals, please include their name(s) in your email.

Florencia Pech Cardenas (Ph.D)

Florencia Pech Cardenas

I am a Botanist and an indigenous woman from the Yucatecan Maya ethnia. My lifelong passion for studying largely stems from my background; I come from an economically disadvantaged family. Thus, being able to finance my studies proved a relentless challenge. My pursuit of strong grades, my continual interest to study, and economic limitations were all factors which motivated me to apply for scholarships, and other financial resources. I am proud to say that all of my academic work, all of my international travel for conferences and research projects, and more have been financed by scholarships which I have tirelessly pursued. I live with my two-year-old son and my husband. Combining my doctoral program career alongside motherhood has been a big challenge, yet I have had the opportunity to learn how to balance and manage my time in an efficient way in order to enjoy both of those important aspects of my life.

My initial research experiences started in the field of the cultivation of plants among indigenous communities. This includes among Mayan communities from which both sides of my family can trace their roots. I immersed in studying the floral biodiversity and sustainability of family gardens in the Maya Region of the Yucatan Peninsula. This made me realize how a healthy ecosystem needs to integrate human and natural systems alike.

My current research interests focus on the study of dry tropical forest ecosystems with goals of developing conservation strategies and to contribute to the sustainable development for such regions. This means not only looking at restoring natural resources, but also restoring and revaluing traditional ecological knowledge from indigenous communities who inhabit these regions. My specific interests focus on: 1) Analyzing sustainable management strategies in order to propose initiatives which conserve natural resources in tropical dry forests; 2) Evaluating the state of conservation and risks of extinction among native plant species, and; 3) The study of natural resource use among indigenous communities, which will thus motivate the restoration and revaluation of traditional knowledge.


Irene De Pellegrin Llorente (Ph.D.)

Irene gained her degree in Forest Engineer and her masters in Forest Management from the Technical University of Madrid, Spain. During her masters, in her class “Quantitative Decision-Making Methods in Forest Management” she discovered what it is now her area of interest and where she could perfectly link her passion to solve problems with forest management. She is currently a second-year PhD student in the Forest Resources Department (Economics, Policy, Management, and Society) while she is also pursuing a PhD minor in Applied Economics. Her areas of interest are forest management planning, harvest scheduling, spatially explicit forest planning, and operations research. Her research interest is integrating environmental goals and objectives with a spatial component into the forest planning process.

On her free time Irene likes to do outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking, skiing, canoeing, and spending time in the woods. She also loves to bake and try new bread and cake recipes.

Artur Stefanski (Ph.D.)

Artur Stefanski

I grew up in Poland where my interest in research in biological sciences began in forestry high school where I received diploma in forest management in 2000. This initial experience with forestry lead me to pursuit of college degree and resulted in me getting a Master of Science and Engineering degree in forest management with focus on silviculture and ecology in 2005. After finishing, I continued my research interest by pursuing a Master degree in Integrated Biosciences here at the University of Minnesota; however, this time more closely focusing on plant ecophysiology. Upon graduation in 2008, I had successfully assumed a position as a research fellow at the University of Minnesota. Since then I have been working with Dr. Peter Reich, Dr. Rebecca Montgomery and Dr. Sarah Hobbie on a research project called B4WarmED (Boreal forest warming at an ecotone in danger) that focuses on the effects of climate change particularly on elevated temperatures and drought on plants. In 2012, I decided to continue my education at the PhD level in the Natural Resource Science and Management program and started working on my doctoral research based on the B4WarmED project, which I have been managing for the previous 4 years. I focuse my dissertation on addressing the effects of climate change and drought on plants. In particular, my research interests focuses on modeling phenological and physiological responses of 10 ecologically and economically important Northern Minnesota tree species to changing climatic factors (e.g. temperature and drought). I am also anticipating that my work will contribute to refining modeling and prediction of local and global models that address the impact of changing climate on plants as well as uncovering mechanisms that governs plant physiology.

Nfamara Dampha (Ph.D.)

Nfamara Dampha

Nfamara K Dampha, a native of The Gambia, is currently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resources, Science, and Management specifically in Economics, Policy, Management, and Society, and track. Nfamara’s research interests centered on climate change adaptation, policy, and economics as well as disaster risk reduction in developing countries. Nfamara earned a master’s degree in International Development Practice with a graduate minor in Science, Technology Environmental Policy & graduate certificate in Non-Profit/NGO Governance & Management, all from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota (U of M) (2017)

Nfamara is currently a Graduate Research Assistant working the Natural Capital Project under the Institution on the Environment, U of M. He is also a Course Instructor for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), U of M. Prior to joining the U of M, Nfamara was the Director of Administration at National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), Office of The President, The Gambia. He was also a distinguished fellow for President Obama Young African Leaders (2014), Robert and Paula Barrie graduate fellow (2015-17) for international trade, development, and public policy, and Gerald Mullin distinguished graduate fellow (2015-17) for international peace and the solution to controversies between people.

Nfamara currently volunteers as Executive Director for Household Disaster Resilience Project-The Gambia (HELP-Gambia, a registered NGO/Nonprofit) and Secretary General for The Gambia Association in Minnesota.

Baishali Bakshi (Ph.D.)

Baishali Bakshi

I am currently a graduate student in NRSM in the Wildlife Ecology track of University of Minnesota and an Environmental Economist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. My research project is on evaluating impacts to ecosystem services from climate change-induced shift in forest composition in the Boreal forests of northern Minnesota. Ecosystem services are benefits received from nature such as recreation, water quality, and climate regulation. Evaluating these benefits are complicated by their dependence on natural resources, which may be affected by a variety of stressors including climate change, and further by their public good features, which means typically a market price is not available for valuation. My research aims to evaluate impacts to ecosystem services using a blend of econometric and spatial modeling tools and region specific data from a variety of sources. My interest in the links between economics and conservation owes partly to growing up in India where preserving biodiversity and natural areas competed with deep social inequities, low environmental consciousness and improper enforcement. I joined the PhD program in economics at the University of California, Irvine to explore these links and apply economic tools to solve problems characterizing them such as trade in environmental products and human-wildlife conflict.  My decision to pursue a second graduate study was motivated by a desire to understand natural resources from the ecological point of view and apply the tools of ecology and economics to study multidisciplinary conservation problems. Having an excellent graduate advisor who understood my goals and being part of the NRSM graduate program which provided a blend of academic rigor and flexibility has been beneficial to me and allows me to work full time while completing my dissertation.

I came to the US from India in 1999 to join the PhD program in Economics at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). My program was structured initially in core economics courses and later opened up to specializations leading to the choice of a broad thesis topic and advisor and hence was different compared to my current program. As an international student and as one who had only spent a couple of years living away from home before, this was a major change in culture, climate and daily life. However several factors helped me adapt and enjoy the time spent including the scenic beauty of Irvine, the diversity of my University, the excellent academic experience I received and the kindness and fellowship of my American friendship partners among many other new friends. The American friendship partner program assigned international students with an American family willing to spend time with them and acquaint them with the new culture including inviting them to their homes. I learned a lot from these generous individuals and after a decade of graduation and leaving UCI, I am still in touch with some of them. Overall both graduate programs have enriched my academic, personal and professional experience. The difference in structure, subject area and surroundings between them curiously fit the requirements I had in these stages of life. As I near completion of my dissertation at NRSM at the University of Minnesota, I look forward to applying the knowledge, skills and experience gained in my current position with the State of Minnesota. 

Lucia Fitts Vargas (Ph.D.)

Fitts Vargas

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Natural Resources, Science, and Management specifically the track of Forests: Biology, Ecology, Conservation and Management. I grew up in Peru, where I obtained my Forest engineer degree. My passion for science and forestry started very early in my life, as my mother is a Biologist (originally from Ecuador), and always told me her stories when she went out in the field and how things where when you had to enter the forest with no cellphones or even electricity for weeks, and the connection you get with nature by doing so.

During my undergraduate degree, I traveled a lot along the Amazon and the Andes, and had the opportunity to work with native communities, which gave me a greater insight of how diverse our country is. I later went to a graduate-level exchange in Finland, at the University of Turku. I loved the international environment there, and decided I wanted to go further on my studies by pursuing a Ph.D. program. My first option was the University of Minnesota, where I got in contact with my current advisor, Matthew Russell.

My current research focuses on land use and land cover change of boreal and temperate forests across the United States. It focuses especially on the carbon fluxes over the years, and how disturbances affect the carbon stored in the tree’s wood. The objective here is to use data collected by the Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) from parcels distributed along the country and to combine that with spatial, temporal and statistical relationships of the factors that influence the changes in carbon stocks that are derived from a land use change at a landscape level.

I have always been an outdoor person, so I love traveling even for a short time. Art is also one of my passions, so I sometimes try to combine my scientific career with it.