Global Student Spotlight: Reese Hertel


Global Student Spotlight: Reese Hertel

Future Civil Engineer Goes Global, Catalyzed by Climate Change
Reese Hertel Guatemala 1

hird-year civil engineering major and Spanish minor Reese Hertel learned to appreciate nature while growing up in Charlottesville. Now, he seeks to bring his passion for the environmental global, interning in Guatemala and studying in Valencia to prepare himself for career as a Latin America-focused environmental engineer.

This past summer you served as an environmental conservation intern in Guatemala. Tell us more about your experience.

Hertel: This past summer, I interned with Wellkind Guatemala, a small nonprofit organization located in the Mayan village of Tzununá, Guatemala. Wellkind is an NGO with programs that support environmental and economic regeneration through community empowerment. As a member of the reforestation team I supported the distribution of nearly twenty thousand native trees to over 150 families. In total, the program reforested 22.2 hectares of land, an area equivalent to almost 55 football fields. 

I arrived before the planting of the trees began, so I was able to participate in all aspects of the program, including teaching conservation classes to community members, surveying prospective planting sites, collecting trees from local nurseries, and distributing trees to local families. After distribution, I spent time visiting sites where trees were planted and during these visits I trained the local team in the use of GPS coordinates and data collection. I used a digital mapping program called ArcGIS to create an interactive map displaying plots of each reforestation site. This data collection and visualization platform will enable the Wellkind team to track the progress of the reforestation program for years to come. I received funding for the internship through the Rodman Scholars program and the Engineering Career Center. I'd like to thank these university resources for providing me with funding that allowed me to have this experience.

What was the best part of your internship in Guatemala?

Hertel: The best part of my internship was the time that I spent with my coworkers. I was inspired by their desire to learn, determined work ethic, and approachable demeanors. Although I enjoyed my internship greatly, the best part of my time in Guatemala came after its conclusion when I traveled around the country for 3 weeks. I was able to explore the variety of natural landscapes and cultural diversity that the country has to offer. Some highlights included hiking and camping on an active volcano 13,000 feet above sea level, completing a 5-day, 70 mile trek to an ancient Mayan pyramid in the rainforest, and snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef. These experiences forced me out of my comfort zone and helped grow my appreciation for the natural world.

Reese Hertel and two Guatemalan men pick up small trees to plant
Hertel with his coworkers in Guatemala.

How did you get interested in environmental conservation?

Hertel: As a kid growing up in Charlottesville, I spent a lot of time hiking and exploring in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors, which has led me to greatly appreciate the natural world. I think that climate change is a generational issue that will have a huge impact on our lives in the near future, and I think that an important part of the solution to combating it can be found in the natural world. It is important that we conserve the environment because many ecosystems, especially those that sequester vast amounts of carbon dioxide, are helping to keep our world habitable. There is much that we can learn from the natural world, particularly related to how natural systems have developed to operate in stable equilibriums. 

What other global experiences have you participated in at UVA?

Hertel: I am currently studying abroad for the Fall semester as a part of UVA’s program in Valencia, Spain. This program has allowed me to take engineering classes at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, as well as Spanish classes at UVA’s Hispanic Studies Center. It was difficult to find an abroad program that offered both of these types of courses which will allow me to complete my civil engineering major and Spanish minor in four years. 

Valencia is the third biggest city in Spain and has many of the same perks as Barcelona and Madrid, but without as many tourists. A unique aspect of the program is that all students live with host families, which has exposed me to Spanish culture and helped improve my Spanish language skills. Studying abroad has had an incredible impact on my college experience and I strongly encourage any student considering studying abroad to go for it!

The developing world suffers from the impacts of climate change at a disproportionate rate, since they contribute less to the problem but suffer greater consequences. I am interested in helping to solve these problems, particularly in Latin America.

5. What are your plans for the future? Has this experience/ have these experiences impacted your plans?

In the future I hope to work in an environmental-related engineering field that allows me to use my Spanish language skills. As climate change intensifies, I think that there will be a number of issues that arise related to both water access and coastal infrastructure. The developing world suffers from the impacts of climate change at a disproportionate rate, since they contribute less to the problem but suffer greater consequences. I am interested in helping to solve these problems, particularly in Latin America. My experiences abroad have reinforced my desire to eventually work internationally through exposure to different cultures, languages, and societies that have changed the way that I view the world. Working collaboratively with groups of diverse people that have unique perspectives results in solutions that better serve communities and the world.