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Your thesis could take you places before you even write it!

Zachary Pinard

Throughout my time in the Honors College, I had been refining my thesis topic into something I knew I wanted to pursue after graduation.  I loved studying abroad as an undergraduate, and developed a love for exploring other countries’ cultures.  As an environmental science major, I am naturally interested in mitigation and adaptation to climate change.  Therefore, it made sense that comparing the strength and achievability of various countries’ climate change commitments would be the perfect project for me!

This past fall, I set out on the normal thesis route: finding a mentor, building a timeline, and starting the first draft of my proposal.  Through this process, my mentor casually mentioned that the next Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change would be in Katowice, Poland that coming December.  The 2015 iteration of this conference took place in Paris and concluded with the world famous Paris Agreement, so these conferences are very meaningful and take place at the highest level.  Now, they focus primarily on implementing and adopting the rulebook for the Paris Agreement.

He said I should see about getting there myself.  I appreciated his enthusiasm, but I thought there was no way I could get there.

The Conference took place over two weeks, one of which was finals, I didn’t know people who were going, and I had heard you needed a badge to even be allowed into the negotiations.  Nonetheless, when my mentor pointed me in the direction of an

application for YMCA Camp Climate, I looked into it.  After submitting an application past the deadline in November and explaining my reason for going would be to research an Honors thesis project, I got back to my schoolwork thinking this was unlikely to happen, but worth a shot.

Zac and a friend at COP24 in Poland

To my surprise, YMCA Camp Climate accepted me with open arms and all of a sudden, my plan was to miss finals week and fly to Poland for the biggest climate change conference in the world.  I remember explaining the news to my mom, whose response went something like “Oh!  Poland!  Well, alrighty then!”  It felt both a little random and a little miraculous that things had worked out so last minute.  I hadn’t even started my thesis yet, and it had already taken me across the world to a country I had never thought twice about, for perhaps the most important conference of my career.

In Poland, everything moved 100 miles per hour.  First I struggled to find a badge to get in, but once I did, I filled every second of the day with meetings, exploring, networking, and press events.  I took pictures with Greta Thunberg and Al Gore, saw some of the tensest parts of the negotiations firsthand, and most importantly, I met a multitude of professionals who guided me into the thesis project I am currently working on.  After being connected to Costa Rica’s Vice Chancellor and practicing my Spanish with the Mexican youth delegation, I decided to compare the climate change commitments of Costa Rica and Mexico, to compare how a large and small country in the same region address the issue.

Zac takes a photo with Al Gore.

Going to COP24 in Poland was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done so far, and it all started with my thesis project.  When they say your thesis will take you places, listen to them, because for me it did so quite literally!

I’m currently working on my thesis: Comparative analysis of the Costa Rican and Mexican Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to climate change mitigation and adaptation under the mentorship of Professor Gregg Walker from the department of Speech Communication. I’m planning to defend my thesis and graduate in Fall 2019 – Zac Pinard. 


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