Erica Issenberg sitting in front of computers, with Terrset GIS image on screen

Clark student inspired to bring change locally and globally

Erica Issenberg ’18 takes 'Challenge Convention. Change Our World' to heart in Worcester, Ho Chi Minh City — and beyond
September 21, 2017

Since her high school days in Vermont, where she was involved in social and environmental justice movements, Erica Issenberg ’18 has always sought to change the world for the better. At Clark University, she has found others who share her passion for justice, and discovered new ways to make a difference, whether in Worcester or Quito or Ho Chi Minh City.

About Erica Issenberg ’18

Majors: International Development and Social Change; Geography
Hometown: Shelburne, Vt.

“What really drew me to Clark is the University’s emphasis on teaching students how to tackle today’s most pressing problems, and instilling the need in students to institute social change on both a global and local scale,” Issenberg says.

Her first semester here, Issenberg took President David Angel’s “Challenge Convention. Change Our World” First-Year Intensive class and learned “how I can use my time as a student to follow my passions, and work toward initiating the change I want to see in the world.”

She’s taken that message to heart — through research, study abroad, campus activities and volunteer work.

Early in her Clark career, Issenberg became involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest and the Clark chapter of Timmy Global Health, a U.S. non-profit organization that sends medical supplies and teams to underserved communities across the world.

As president of the Clark chapter, Issenberg recently attended an annual leadership conference at the Timmy Global Health’s headquarters in Indianapolis. She also has organized and overseen brigades traveling to Quito, Ecuador, and Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala, with medical supplies paid for by Clark fundraisers.

“This year, I hope to go on my first brigade — our group’s medical brigade to Guangaje, Ecuador,” she says. “We hold events on campus to raise funds toward our medical brigades and for Timmy. Some of our most popular events include pumpkin carving around Halloween and a Paint Night in the spring.”

Ron Eastman, left, talks to Erica Issenberg at Clark Labs
Ronald Eastman, professor of geography and
director of Clark Labs, talks to Erica Issenberg
about their GIS project investigating
environmental issues facing coastal Myanmar.

Besides Latin America, Issenberg’s scholarly interests have focused on Southeast Asia. As a research assistant at Clark Labs, she’s examining environmental issues facing Myanmar’s coastal areas, where shrimp fisheries are quickly expanding aquaculture and encroaching on habitats. The project, led by J. Ronald Eastman, lab director and professor of geography, is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Issenberg recently left the women’s tennis team — where she had played for three years and made the NEWMAC Academic All-Conference team — to focus more on the research project and her school work.

“I use Clark Labs’ geospatial software system called TerrSet to help create baseline maps of coastal habitats and the distribution of aquaculture,” she says. “I’m gaining valuable skills in the fields of GIS [geographic information systems] and remote sensing.”

The project builds upon Issenberg’s knowledge of aquaculture practices in Southeast Asia. Last spring, she examined such issues in southern Vietnam as part of her study-abroad experience at the CET public health and development program in Ho Chi Minh City. The program exposed her to the country’s rapid economic development, and the health problems, and other consequences, that have arisen as a result.

Issenberg interned with The Maker Concept Café, which sells clothing, beauty products and jewelry created by at-risk populations in Ho Chi Minh City, and she wrote several blog articles about her experience for CET. (Read “Saigon’s One-of-a-kind Coffee Culture,” “A Mekong Getaway” and “A Hidden Gem in a Changing Saigon.”)

Erica Issenberg aboard a boat on a river in Vietnam
Erica Issenberg travels in Vietnam aboard a
river boat. She studied abroad through the CET
public health and development program. 

“At the Maker Concept, I learned how a business can support those who are often forgotten in the midst of Ho Chi Minh City’s development scheme,” she says.

Now back at Clark, Issenberg volunteers with the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, assisting Myanmar refugees at The Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC). She leads a weekly reading group for children.

“The reading group allows these children, the majority of whom speak English as a second language, to become familiar with reading books and stories in English,” she says. “For many, this group helps them improve their reading levels so they can catch up to children at their schools and in their grades who have been reading and learning English all their lives."

Issenberg herself is getting a taste of mastering a language; she’s taking Vietnamese classes at SEAC every Friday. “I learned a good amount of Vietnamese while I was abroad, and want to improve. I don't want to lose what I learned.”

After graduation, she plans to enroll in Clark’s Fifth-Year Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy program and then pursue a career in environmental health.

“My Clark education has given me the skills to face the problems and challenges of our world,” she says. “I feel very prepared to enter the workforce.”

Above: Erica Issenberg with images generated by Clark Labs’ geospatial software system, TerrSet.