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Manoly Sisavanh

About Manoly

  • Field and focus area of study: International Development, Natural Resources Management
  • Hometown: Vientiane, Lao PDR (aka. Laos)
  • Fun fact: I survived the Ithaca winter by eating one or two bowls of Vietnamese Pho a day at Saigon Kitchen. No kidding.
  • View Manoly's LinkedIn profile

What were you doing prior to your degree program?

Learning to be a can-do-it-all mom for my two offspring while working full-time at the World Bank in Laos on sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation projects and also managing a small textile business as a hobby.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame in order to participate in the MPS program?

A month after the Fulbright confirmed to sponsor my graduate study at Cornell, I delivered my second baby girl, Ivy (of course, I named her after the Ivy League). So, instead of heading straight to Cornell that July 2015, I was granted a one-year deferral by the Fulbright and CALS to take care of the young Ivy. After a year, I was ready again for school and joined the MPS in July 2016. Thanks to my super supportive life partner for taking excellent care of our kids while I was pursuing my dreams.

Why did you choose to pursue the MPS degree?        

I hit my comfort zone at work and wanted to do more and become more in order to make meaningful impacts in securing the biodiversity of Laos and elsewhere for the benefit of nature and humanity. I was convinced by my colleagues and family that a master degree is a must if I was to make a great deal of change in natural resources sector, so I applied for the Fulbright and it handpicked CALS MPS for me, based on my personal statement and research proposal. I can’t be more thankful for this lifetime privilege to be both a Cornellian and a Fulbrighter. 

What were the strengths of your program, in your opinion? 

You really need to know what you are really interested in before joining the MPS because everything is pretty much packed up in one year. The liberty for me to design my own study plan to fulfill my technical and professional needs and personal interests was rewarding. The one-year intensive duration, which was both convenient and painful, was highly suitable in my situation as I was transitioning to a mid-career profession with a family waiting every day to reunite, even virtually. 

What were some of the most rewarding moments while in your MPS program?

Friendship with my CALS MPS fellows was truly a blessing. We got along very well and have been very supportive to one another while on campus and to-date. Also, the countless conversations with and constant encouragement from my supervisors—Drs. Jim Lassoie and Louise Buck—really kept me running toward my finish line. A fun and educational farm trip with Drs. Terry Tucker and Julie Lauren in May. Last, but not least, the remarkable experience being part of the Cornell Institute for International Food and Agricultural Development’s Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (CIIFAD SMART). Dr. Beth Medvecky, myself, and three other grad students from CIPA and Food Science developed and delivered an intensive capacity training workshop on agricultural and food processing value chains for two farmers’ groups in Nandi, Western Kenya. This Kenyan trip led me to conduct my graduate paper with the Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) on developing sustainable agritourism in the agriculture-forest landscape of the Kikuyu Escarpment Forest of Kenya. All rewarding and unforgettable memories.

How did your degree program impact your career path? 

The MPS gave me the ability and confidence to take on more challenging roles at work and in life. The technical, analytical, research, negotiations and communications skills acquired while attending the program were invaluable to my career path. Immediately upon graduating in 2017, I was contracted by the World Bank to work in the forestry sector and the national green growth policy and regulatory reforms in Laos. Then in June 2019, I was very fortunate to join a team of passionate and perseverant conservationists at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Laos Program as Deputy Country Director. WCS is a US-based, nonprofit global conservation organization that saves wildlife and wild places through science, conservation action, education and inspiring people to value nature. I’m now a full-time conservationist, working my dream job with my dream team in my home country.

What courses stand out as most helpful for your specific career goals?

I selected courses of my technical interests focusing on community-based NRM. The outstanding ones included conservation biology, natural resources planning and management, farmer-centered research and extension, community organizing and development, and international public and NGOs management.

What advice would you give to your younger self embarking on the journey of graduate school?

Strive for experience not perfection.