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Scholarships Propel PhD Student in Pursuing his Passion

Not just anyone can fly a drone in the forest, but Abishek Poudel revels in the birds-eye views he captures for the purpose of environmental science. The technology helps him locate and then measure—with more than 90% accuracy—each tree within a specific location. This information is critical to helping restore forests.

"While working as a park ranger, I became fascinated by how geo-spatial technology can help convey information on landcover monitoring/mapping so that we can sustainably manage our natural resources. The technology helps us tell a story," he said.

Poudel's interest led him to ESF in 2017, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in sustainable resources management under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Eddie Bevilacqua. While tree measurement still occurs manually, it's time-consuming and labor-intensive; the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)—drones—can make the process more efficient and precise for mapping and assessment. His research focuses specifically on examining the precision and accuracy of drone imagery and data against traditional field-based forest measurements. His study will provide documentation on scope, size, and trend of UAV in forest regeneration monitoring, particularly in the Northern Forest.

Originally from Nepal, Poudel's fondness for the forest began in high school, where he earned a specialized diploma in forestry. He became a park ranger after obtaining his bachelor's degree—his job was to map wildlife habitat distribution and forest areas based on field survey and geo-spatial technologies. In 2014, he came to the United States to pursue his master's degree, and after completing an internship in California, he started exploring where he could further his education.

"I had learned a little bit about ESF before coming over here; I knew some people who had graduated from here," he said. "ESF has an excellent program that boasts expertise and facilities in the areas that I am interested in. Their broad choice of courses, on-site research/laboratory facilities, and ongoing research serve as an ideal institution for me to pursue a doctoral degree."

While at ESF, Poudel has made quite an impact, earning a number of scholarships to help support his academic pursuits. He was awarded the Robert E. Altenhofen Memorial Scholarship in 2020; the Edna Bailey Sussman Fellowship in 2021; and the William A. Fisher Memorial Scholarship in 2022. He was nominated for a Silviculture Scholarship and won an alumni scholarship.

"I applied for Sussman for my Ph.D. research, and it enabled me to advance my work and I have come to this point because of this fellowship," he said. "The scholarships really helped me."

Reflecting on his experiences at ESF so far, Poudel expresses a feeling of growth and mentions experiences that have helped him to blossom. He's built a strong network and has immersed himself in the campus community through his involvement in clubs and the Graduate Student Association.

"I met so many friends when I started, and they have encouraged me," he said. "ESF is like my family away from home. It has given me an opportunity to grow academically, socially, and professionally by laying a platform in different phases of my Ph.D. career, as my many roles have included student, teaching assistant, instructor, volunteer, researcher and tutor."

Poudel hopes to graduate summer of 2023 and is interested in pursuing a career in academia.