Faces of the Pack: Jorge Esparza

Honors College student traveled to Sri Lanka last summer to research human-elephant conflicts

Jorge Esparza outside.

Faces of the Pack: Jorge Esparza

Honors College student traveled to Sri Lanka last summer to research human-elephant conflicts

Jorge Esparza outside.

Jorge Esparza is an Honors student at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is dedicated to researching human-wildlife conflicts. He was the treasurer for the University’s Wildlife Society and is a Biology learning assistant through the University’s Biology Peer Instruction Program. He enjoys playing video games, watching hockey and hiking when he has the time.

Esparza wishes to pursue a master’s degree or enroll in a graduate program where he can continue to research human-wildlife conflicts. His current research focus is on human-elephant conflicts, and he hopes to go to India someday to study human-tiger conflicts.

“It feels great to be a part of a larger community of scholars who are just as motivated, and dedicated, to overachieve in their academic or co-curricular endeavors,” Esparza said when asked about his experience at the Honors College. “I feel like I belong and all of us are here to obtain the maximum success in some way, shape or form. It’s amazing.” 

Through the Honors College, Esparza was able to learn about many different fellowships and grants he could apply to. So far, he has applied to the Payne Fellowship, the FAS International Agriculture Fellowship, the PD Soros Fellowship for New Americans, and the NSF GRFP Fellowship. He was also an NSF EPSCoR grant recipient last spring (2023).

Esparza applied to these fellowships in order to fund his research and help him travel internationally. He’s most excited about the Payne fellowship and FAS fellowship. If he is awarded either of these fellowships he will be able to travel and do the kind of work he’s interested in. For either of those fellowships, he will get to participate in two internships that will be beneficial for his academic career.   

Jorge Esparza sits in a group of four other individuals, all smiling while working together.

Esparza participated in the International Research Opportunity: Sri Lanka program during the summer of 2023. This program is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) IRES grant. It covers the cost of any project-related travel, lodgings and meals in Sri Lanka. Through the program, students travel to Sri Lanka to conduct research in Wasgamuwa National Park. Any full-time undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno may apply. The program is eight weeks long during the summer. The students work with field biologists, conservationists and extensionists throughout their trip and focus on understanding the causes of human-elephant conflicts. They also work with a mentor who guides them through their research projects.  

Esparza loved getting to try the food in Sri Lanka, learning more about the culture, and interacting with the locals. He enjoyed working with the local communities so much during his trip that he hopes to continue to pursue his research internationally in the future. 

Jorge stands near a river that has elephants near it.

“One of my favorite parts of going to live out in the countryside in Sri Lanka was sometimes during interviews or human-elephant conflict surveys of locals, we would serve as teams,” Esparza said. “Sometimes it's those small things that really make a big difference collectively.”

Overall, he had an amazing time and was very happy he was able to experience traveling to another country. 

“I highly recommend this opportunity to other students regardless of their major,” Esparza said.

He mentioned how this program can allow any student to study the different factors that go into the human-elephant conflict. One could study the economics of the issue, the politics or even the effects these conflicts have on the environment. 

Project Orange Elephant inspired Esparza’s research in Sri Lanka. Project Orange Elephant showed farmers if they planted orange trees around their crops, elephants were more likely to avoid the area. This study made Esparza curious about what other plants farmers could grow to help protect the farmers’ crops from elephants. He learned the plants in more closed areas were avoided by the elephants. They seemed to like the plants that could be found in the more open areas.  

Jorge stands in front of an ancient monument.

Esparza offers the following advice to students: When offered an opportunity that could help you towards your goals, especially one you may not want to commit to long term, still take advantage of the opportunity. Be opportunistic towards the different things the school is offering you. You never know what skills it will teach you. 

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