Izzy Aristizabal / Class of 2020

Izzy at park

  • Recent Geography graduate
  • Co-major in Sustainability, minor in English Literature
  • Studied abroad in Peru during J-Term 2019
  • Interned with Pictured Rocks Lakeshore in the Interpretation Division
  • Completed undergraduate thesis and Dean's Scholar Funded research project 

Why Miami?

"After switching my major twice, I finally landed on Geography during my Junior year because it combined my desire to understand the environment and humans’ interaction with it on both large and small scales. My ultimate focus was sustainability, and studying Geography gave me the foundational knowledge I needed to move forward in my career and approach these issues from physical and human perspectives." 


Best Miami Experiences

"The trip to Peru really helped me settle into the department. I got to know my professor, Dr. Bruce D’Arcus, as well as other Geography and Sustainability students and be immersed in learning Peruvians’ historical and modern relationship to their environment. It was really powerful to see Incan ruins, including Machu Picchu first-hand and how in some ways they understood how to live in harmony with the planet better than we do today.

Also starting my Junior year, I got the opportunity to work in the Water Resources Lab run by Dr. Bart Grudzinski. I began by helping one of his graduate students, Teng Keng Vang, do field surveys in the local watershed searching for beaver dams. This was my first taste of field work, and once all the data for that project had been collected I got trained to collect water samples and process them in the lab to help with two other graduate thesis projects. I was able to use some of this data to spin off into my own undergraduate thesis and Dean’s scholar project. I got amazing professional experience and made great connections through this."


Internship at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

"I never thought I’d be lucky enough to work for the National Park Service. But in the summer of 2020, amid a pandemic and uncertain job prospects for the majority of my graduating class, I moved to the upper peninsula of Michigan to start this seasonal internship (which almost didn’t happen - thanks, Coronavirus). I felt uniquely prepared for this position because of my Geography degree: having an understanding of physical processes, ecology, and human interactions with the environment. The Park Service, at its core, is about protecting the land. But operating on the surface is a socio-cultural atmosphere in which Interpretive Rangers like myself (there’s two different types of Park Rangers - Interpretive and Law Enforcement - something I didn’t know until I started here!) do most of our work. We help visitors orient themselves to the park, of course, and do programs on relevant subjects like black bears, invasive species, or the Great Lakes. 

Most visitors are understanding about the stringent rules regarding pets and staying on trail, and other Leave No Trace principles. The Park Service has more protections in place for its lands than any other federal land agency. How else would it accomplish its mission to preserve unimpaired these resources? But other visitors aren’t as understanding. It is a great irony that a National Park designation brings development and increased tourism to its regions. In my opinion, nothing is more important than getting people to realize the value of our natural resources and of wilderness itself. As (in)famous former NPS Ranger Edward Abbey once said, The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. And the national parks make that easy to see with their wild beauty and historical significance, but that same principle should apply to every place no matter where it is."


Advice to Students

"If you’re trying to figure out what you want to do, think about what you’ve been interested in your whole life. What’s something you’ve always had in your mind or something you’ve always loved to do? I bounced around from Biology to English Literature and finally to Geography because sustainability had always been important to me, but it took a conversation with my advisor at the time, Dr. David Prytherch, to realize what geography actually was. You should be speaking to your advisor at minimum on a semesterly basis, if not more, especially if you have specific questions. They’re there to help you and point you towards resources you wouldn't’t have otherwise known about. 

When looking for internships, you can’t start too early. At least look at how much experience you need and what kinds of classes they would like you to have taken. Start volunteering if you can, it’s a great way to get experience and make connections early on.

While you’re in school, focus on getting hard skills! That could be GIS, programming, research, or field work. Look at the jobs you want and what kind of skills and software they want you to know."