When senior Jason Zylberman studied abroad in Holland during his junior year, he was impressed by the Europeans’ progressive attitude toward the environment.
“The lifestyle is much more active,” he says, and emphasizes one of the most often-used transportation systems in Holland. “You ride your bike to class.” Between his daily bike rides, Zylberman took several geography courses focused on changing the landscape of sustainable energy, which he says helped him to gain an international perspective on environmental issues. Now, as he prepares to graduate with a degree in geography, he also has a Congressional internship under his belt to help him effect environmental change at the legislative level.
“I think when Jason went to Holland, his eyes were opened to the changes that were occurring over there, but still haven’t happened here,” says Anji Seth, associate professor of geography and Zylberman’s advisor. “Right from the get-go he knew exactly what he was interested in. I’m really impressed by his ability to juggle it all.”
When Zylberman first came to UConn, he knew wanted a major that would allow him to focus on the environment, so he thought a major in biological sciences was his best route.
“But when I took a physical geography class with Anji Seth I realized that geography addresses the environmental issues, so I decided to switch [to geography],” he says.
Seth says that studying geography is an ideal foundation for students like Zylberman who are interested in “big picture” issues because it incorporates the physical, social, and cultural landscape.
“If you’re interested in global issues, you can get the background information to do that with geography,” says Seth. “You’re going to get an education that is really interdisciplinary, but all in one place.”
After his experiences abroad, Zylberman wanted to learn more about the legislative side of environmental issues, so he applied for an internship at the Enfield office of Congressman Joseph Courtney. In his internship, which he began in 2013, Zylberman has been responsible for answering phone calls about environmental policies, as well as a broad range of governmental policies including social security, health care and international affairs.
“There was a big learning curve at first,” says Zylberman. “There are certain political issues that people will call about, so you have to be very informed and in the loop.”
Working in a small office also taught Zylberman the value of close mentorships, especially when working with highly detailed work such as healthcare and social security policies.
“It’s really about teamwork,” he says. “You have to good communication skills in order to help the people who need help with social security disability or healthcare.”
Zylberman says that the experience has helped shape his career goals.
“I’ve learned to always keep an open mind,” says Zylberman. “Before I thought I would work in environmental consulting firm, but now I can see myself working for [organizations such as] the EPA and DEEP.”
This fall, Zylberman will return to UConn to earn his Master’s degree in geography. Once he obtains his Master’s degree, Zylberman would like to work in a congressman’s office and set in motion changes in environmental policy.
“I’d like to see an improvement in energy efficiency, as that is perhaps the best way to reduce carbon emissions, and an improvement in the public transportation system,” he says.
By Samantha Ruggiero (CLAS)