Ohio University

International environmental studies graduate gains immersive sustainability experience at OHIO

Paola Sofia Munoz Gamboa

For Paola Sofia Muñoz Gamboa, sustainability and eco-friendliness have been at the forefront of her Ohio University experience. Two years living in the Ecohouse, an OHIO residence focused on green technology and sustainable living, was a perfect backdrop for completing her Master of Science in Environmental Studies through Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

Muñoz received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Costa Rica. She focuses on the conservation and preservation of protected areas, and her work has taken her across Latin America, including ethnographic research in Nicaragua, ecological research in Mexico and environmental consulting and policy work in Costa Rica. She has also worked as a teaching assistant at the University of Costa Rica, taught biology in a Costa Rican scientific high school and environmental sustainability to students in an exchange program in Costa Rica. She chose to pursue her MSES at Ohio University to gain expertise in the social sciences and environmental policy.   

“Teaching with the exchange program gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about my country and my region,” Muñoz said. “I'm really thankful that I could pair all that practice with more profound studies at Ohio University.”

At Ohio University, Muñoz was a graduate research assistant to Dr. Geoff Dabelko, Voinovich School professor, and worked with him on ecological security proposals while also collaborating with Age-Friendly Athens County, an organization that focuses on making Athens more livable for older adults. During her time living at the Ecohouse, she also completed a sustainability-related project each semester. Muñoz collaborated with the Women’s Center to educate women on the usage of menstrual cups as an alternative to disposable menstrual products for her first semester project. Her second project focused on creating flyers and handouts about biking regulations, and for her third project, she worked in the Ecohouse gardens.

“In the Ecohouse, we really want to be more sustainable than the average student,” Muñoz said. “We're students, and we don't have enough money for buying expensive, energy-efficient appliances, but the university is giving us this opportunity to live in the Ecohouse and giving us all of that.”

Muñoz also completed her thesis this semester, which focuses on deforestation in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve in Nicaragua between 2010 and 2020. She found that the deforestation rate increased by nine times inside the protected area, while it decreased by half in the areas outside the reserve.

“What the data is showing me is that people are not respecting the border of the protected area, and they will respect it less in the near future,” she said. “The fast deforestation also proves the government is not truly protecting the biological reserve and soon we can lose one of the five biggest old-growth forests in Mesoamerica.”

Muñoz said her work at the Voinovich School has prepared her for a career in continuing her work in environmental policy and fighting deforestation.

“The environmental studies program gave me the social science background and taught me how to bring new perspectives into my study,” Muñoz said. “With this knowledge, I plan to involve local communities and governments in putting an end to deforestation.”