Nelson Institute and Rainforest Trust partner on Conservation Essentials course

December 4, 2020

This summer the Nelson Institute launched Conservation Essentials a one-of-a-kind online course in conservation management. A collaboration with specialists from Foundations of Success (FOS), the Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP), and the Conservation Coaches Network (CCNet), the 12- week course welcomes graduate students, professionals working in the conservation field, or anyone in need of training in conservation project management. In addition to the general course, the program also offers private instruction for non-profits. As a part of this private programming, Nelson Institute and the Rainforest Trust partnered to train 10 Rainforest Trust Fellows.

The Rainforest Trust is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that “purchases and protects threatened tropical forests through innovative in-country partnerships.” Its Fellows include conservation professionals from around the world who, in collaboration with support from Rainforest Trust, designate and protect protected areas all over the world. This implementation requires conservation planning knowledge and management skills, which is precisely what the Conservation Essentials course provides.

“The Rainforest Trust Fellows are the exact type of student you hope to work with in a course like this,” said Nelson Institute Director of International & Professional Programs, Nathan Schulfer. “The Fellows come from all over the world, they are all accomplished professionals working on a shared goal of protecting the environment, and the Conservation Essentials course helps them be even better at their work.”

The course, which is entirely online, allows participants to learn at their own pace while receiving support and networking opportunities during structured peer interaction exercises and weekly check-in meetings. Using the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s online collaboration platform Blackboard Collaborate, participants spend around ten hours per week on course assignments. This includes reviewing lectures and readings, completing assignments, conducting peer reviews of assignments, and participating in group discussions.

Michael Akrasi
Michael Akrasi

“The course has been helpful, but in particular the weekly meetings are helpful because you get to meet other students,” said Rainforest Trust Fellow and Conservation Officer at HERP Conservation Ghana, Michael Akrasi. “You get to share ideas and learn from them and share your problems and get them resolved. Also, through this course I was introduced to Miradi software which I believe is one of the best project management software any conservation organization can have.”

Akrasi, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources Management with a specialization in Wildlife and Range Management, helps in the management of a reserve in Ghana that was established with the help of the Rainforest Trust. While the reserve is quite large, Akrasi shared that the conservation team is small, so being able to efficiently manage the reserve and its related conservation projects is key.

“Our organization is small and managing a huge reserve is quite a daunting task so this course came in handy as it helped me learn to plan for and implement conservation projects,” said Akrasi. “This course has a unique touch to it that it gives you a different perspective and fresh insight into how to do things and make conservation work. My heart goes out to Rainforest Trust for putting this together for us and for giving me the opportunity to participate and to learn these new skillsets. I’m going to recommend this course to everyone.”

Esther Kagoya
Esther Kagoya

Rainforest Trust Fellow Esther Kagoya, who works with the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute in the Capture Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation program in Uganda also shared Akrasi’s enthusiasm for the course.

“As a new Conservation Fellow, I was interested in the course content especially writing proposals for funding and developing work plans and budgets for projects. These captured my attention and made me apply for the course.” said Kagoya. “In relation to my role with Rainforest Trust, the course is timely given that my organization in partnership with RainForest Trust is implementing a project aimed at creating conservation areas on Lake Nyaguo [Uganda]. We have developed a management plan for the lake with strategies and a vision for sustainable resource management over the next five years.”

Like Akrasi, Kagoya came to the course with experience in conservation, but left with new skillsets and an improved understanding of conservation planning tools.

“I loved the Miradi software, it is user friendly and easy to learn with a variety of components. It is a very good tool/system both during project development and implementation,” Kagoya said. “The YouTube videos were very helpful in explaining how to execute the assignments. “Stories from the Field” were wonderful with practical challenges and solutions and ways of incorporating Open Standards into the projects. Last, but not least, the peer review, exposes the student and widens their thinking as they compare their work with the others. Every conservationist needs to understand the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation and how to apply them in conservation of natural resources. My sincere appreciation to Rainforest Trust.”

Akrasi, Kagoya, and their cohort officially graduated from the program on November 10, but the work is just beginning as the students implement what they’ve learned at conservation sites around the world.

“When we first started building the Conservation Essentials course we imagined groups like the Rainforest Trust Fellows as ideal candidates for our training, recognizing the impact we could have by working and learning with committed environmental professionals from around the world,” said Schulfer. “Now that this has actually happened, and we’ve seen the impact the course is having on the Fellows, it has brought our idea full circle and we could not be happier.”

Registration is now open for the January 11 and May 10, 2021 Conservation Essentials course. To learn more about private offerings, contact csmanager@nelson.wisc.edu.