When Sophie Parker began her search for a master’s degree program three years ago, she had already spent six years working as a quality assurance specialist for NASA, as well as six years as an officer in the United States Air Force.

“As a mid-career professional, I wanted the ability to design my program to suit my interests and the demands of my career,” said Parker. “As a Veteran, I needed a program that worked with the GI Bill.”

She found those qualities in Virginia Tech’s Online Masters of Natural Resourcesprogram. As part of the program, which she completed earlier this year, Parker also worked on an independent study project on the bushmeat trade with CLIGS faculty member Dr. Heather Eves.

“Sophie’s work on bushmeat uncovered a pattern of policy recommendations over two decades that were limited in terms of implementation on the ground.” said Dr. Eves. “Independent study projects give CLIGS students the opportunity for individual inquiry, independent yet guided research, and evidence-based problem-solving and are exactly how future leaders will build skills and knowledge to successfully address 21st century challenges.”


Parker also participated in the Spring 2017 International Field Experience (IFE) to South Africa. As part of the South Africa IFE, MNR students meet with government agencies and nonprofits to learn more about the socio-economic status of the country as well as its environmental challenges.

Through these experiences, Parker’s lifelong interest in wildlife crime grew, leading her to apply for an environmental crimes course offered by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). The course, which takes place during the winter in Rome, provides participants with a fundamental understanding of what environmental crimes are and how the existing international legal framework prevents crimes against the environment. Parker was the only American selected for the 20-person course.

“What I enjoyed most was the opportunity to listen to the perspectives of people from vastly different countries than my own,” said Parker. “I believe, whether we’re in the United States or in an international setting, we can learn a great deal by listening with an open mind. The UNICRI and SIOI supported that mindset. The MNR IFE also did a superb job emphasizing that approach.  Sometimes, it’s tempting to shut out perspectives and opinions that are different from ours but, if we do, we miss out on a critical opportunity to learn.”


In September, Parker seized yet another new opportunity. She accepted a position as the Deputy Director of the Quality Assurance and Compliance Division of the USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, Federal Grain Inspection Service. Among other responsibilities, she and her team evaluate reports of alleged violations of the United States Grain Standards Act and the Agricultural Marketing Act. The Division’s duties also include, but are not limited to, conducting operational reviews, and delegating and designating state and privately-owned grain inspection agencies to provide official inspection and weight services.

“I work with an amazing group of people who care deeply about facilitating the trade of grain and supporting the farmers in our country,” said Parker. “When you visit a place like South Africa and see the faces of people who know true hunger, you get a profound appreciation for how lucky we are. It’s rewarding to be part of this process.”

“As I look back on the last several years, I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had as part of the MNR program and for those I sought out as the program helped define my interests,” said Parker. “My advice to anyone considering this step is to ensure you choose a program that provides what you need. The flexibility of the Online MNR program was an ideal match for my goals. A key strength of the program was its acknowledgement of the value of a diverse range of skillsets and strong, open communications in the global sustainability arena.”

View from Table Mountain Cape Town South Africa


Sophie Parker headshot

MNR alumna Sophie Parker received her Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Virginia and lives in Washington DC. Along with her new position for USDA, her career has included positions as an Officer in the US Air Force, a Project Manager and Six Sigma Black Belt for Caterpillar Inc., and a Quality Assurance Specialist for NASA.

MNR alumna Lindsay Key is passionate about helping scientists translate their discoveries into news that the general public can understand and use. She’s particularly knowledgeable about the life sciences and has written extensively about the environment, wildlife, and human health. In addition to the MNR, she has degrees in creative writing (focus: poetry), English, and Communication Studies.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks the following photographers for sharing their work through the Creative Commons License: Maris M., Courtney Kimmel, Luc Mercelis, and Romain Pontida.