March 1, 2013

Building India’s Environmental Awareness

Dr. Shubhalaxmi Vaylure loves nature. On her Facebook page, her “dream house” overlooks a lush, marshy, nature scene. “It was in my childhood that I got the nature bug,” she said. “I spent my growing years surrounded by trees and bees. Science was my favorite subject.” Pursuing her passion for nature, Dr. Shubhalaxmi participated in two U.S. Department of State exchange programs. In 2003, she participated in the Fulbright Indo-American Environmental Leadership Program that took her to the University of Montana to study educational centers focused on nature. Then in 2010, she was selected to participate in the Hubert H. Humphrey Program which took her to Boston University to study non-profit management and distance education. She has since vigorously applied these experiences in her home country of India, helping others to better understand the natural world she loves so much. It is in recognition of this work that we honor Dr. Shubhalaxmi as the March 2013 International Exchange Alumni Member of the Month.

Dr. Shubhalaxmi is currently the deputy director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) where she has served in various positions for 20 years. Early in her career with BNHS, she drew inspiration from her Fulbright program as she implemented innovative educational programs at the Mumbai Conservation Education Center based on what she had learned while in Montana. During her Fulbright program, Dr. Shubhalaxmi was able to visit several nature education centers – spaces designed to educate visiting guests about the environment through interactive wildlife and nature displays. Using the nature education centers as a model, she pioneered several changes at the BNHS’s Center. She developed and implemented volunteer trainings; started a fun “Breakfast with Butterflies” program; installed dioramas and nature trail signage; and developed new interactive exhibits, study kits, and promotional materials. These changes gave the Mumbai Conservation Education Center a new identity and have made it the standard-setting conservation education center in all of India.

During the 2009-2010 academic year, Dr. Shubhalaxmi studied nonprofit management and distance education at Boston University through the Hubert H. Humphrey Program. Dr. Shubhalaxmi notes that these courses had a profound effect on her, “I felt I was reborn…the management courses [expanded] my career course from environmental education to non-profit management,” she said. This experience enabled her to bring her environmental advocacy to a new level. Returning from the Humphrey Program, she developed online courses in natural history and worked in the organization development sector of BNHS where she conducted staff training workshops and boosted fundraising and marketing efforts to benefit the Center.

Recently, in 2012, Dr. Shubhalaxmi and a team of her alumni peers won support from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund to provide management trainings for professionals from Indian environmental NGOs. The team has already trained nearly 150 individuals.

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Throughout March, Dr. Shubhalaxmi will be recognized on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website for the more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.