Faculty features: Lyuba Zarsky of MIIS, Monterey, USA

May 7, 2020

MESPOM is jointly operated by a consortium of 4 European and 2 North American Universities. In the final semester, MESPOMers can choose to do their thesis research in North America*.

Dr. Lyuba Zarsky, who is a Professor in the International Environmental Policy program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) shares her reflections on the MESPOM opportunities in California, USA.

I have been the MESPOM coordinator at the Middlebury Institute since the start of our partnership in 2012.  My job includes making sure that each MESPOM student is teamed up with an appropriate faculty mentor, as well as helping students navigate the paperwork to get here and the day to day challenges of living here. I also enthusiastically put my hand up each year to be a Faculty Mentor and have been happy to work with a wide variety of MESPOM students.

The International Environmental Policy Program at the Middlebury Institute aims to train students to be agenda-setting environmental professionals in the fields of ocean and coastal resource management, natural resource policy and management, and sustainability management, especially in business. We have three faculty who head up each specialization - who are available as MESPOM mentors - and an array of adjuncts who teach on subjects such as Environmental Justice, Conservation Finance, and Energy Policy.

An economist by academic training, my research interests focus on sustainability management and policy, with a special focus on the role of investment.  In the past, I researched extractive industries, especially mining, and the role of foreign direct investment in promoting sustainable development. At the moment, I am researching the commercialization of technologies and business models for soil carbon sequestration.

Each Spring for the past seven years, we have welcomed 2-4 MESPOM students to our campus in Monterey on the central coast of California. My most satisfying experiences have been mentoring students with thesis topics geared to the local context. I think this cuts both ways. In other words, students who worked with faculty aligned with their thesis focus and who approached their time in Monterey as field research, rather than a “semester away,” used their (and my) time effectively and creatively - and wrote good theses! For example, one MESPOM student researched California’s cutting-edge coastal climate adaptation strategy as a model for Ireland, his home country. Because I teach on coastal climate adaptation, I could not only guide his writing but helped him connect to local and state government officials, NGOs etc for interviews.

MESPOM students are welcome to audit classes at the Middlebury Institute and can access a wide array of resources at nearby universities, including Stanford and UC Berkeley.

But the greatest benefits to MESPOM students of coming to the Middlebury Institute, apart from faculty mentoring, stem from contextual and cultural immersion. California has emerged as a global leader in environmental policy, especially climate mitigation and adaptation. There are ample thesis topics lying in wait for the proactive MESPOM student! 

*Update: the possibility expired in 2023 when the consortium changed to 4 members only.