Of 7 billion individuals now on Earth, a mere 25 million are native speakers of Amharic. So it was a long shot when Olivia Kefauver and Thomas Kimball, senior environmental policy majors, posted an e-mail announcement to the campus community Nov. 28 headed “ES493 class seeks Amharic speaker,” looking for translation help.

“I didn’t know there was someone doing something on Ethiopia,” said Abebu Kassie ’14, from Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, after she responded to the query. “I was really surprised. And really pleased at the same time.” She was even more surprised to find that Matthew Cheever ’12, another environmental policy major in the class, was studying Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. “He is doing [research about] where I come from,” she said. “The lake he is studying? I’m from that spot!”

The ES493: Environmental Policy Practicum class presented its research—six focused studies of key environmental issues in Ethiopia—Dec. 7, showing PowerPoint presentations featuring data-rich GIS maps and graphics. In January Assistant Professor Travis W. Reynolds, who taught the course, will travel to Ethiopia, where he worked as a graduate student. He will present the PowerPoints (annotated in Amharic, thanks to Kassie) and maps to two environmental NGOs and to university scholars.

Of particular interest to the NGOs, said Reynolds, will be Kefauver’s research on how public institutions help or constrain the activities of environmental NGOs in Ethiopia. As Reynolds summarized it, Ethiopia’s policies (both the rules and the regions they protect) are pretty good, but implementation is not. “The missing link is feet on the ground,” he said, suggesting that’s where the NGOs can be more effective.

The other five senior environmental policy majors who presented their research projects were Jillian Howell, “Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy in Ethiopia”; Katie Graichen, “Lake Water Management in Three Ethiopian Rift Valley Watersheds”; Tom Kimball, “Livestock Production Systems and Their Environmental Implications in Ethiopia”; Daniel Homeier, “Evaluation of Forest Cover Change Between 2005 and 2009 in Four Regional States of Ethiopia”; and Matt Cheever, “Waste Management in Ethiopia.”

Reynolds was visibly eager to present his students’ research in Ethiopia next month, confident the findings and large GIS maps layered with information about the anthropogenic drivers of water quality in the Lake Awasa watershed, for example, would prove valuable.

With the last week of classes underway, Kassie had not yet received the text she agreed to translate but, based on conversations, she was impressed with Cheever’s knowledge of her hometown, more than 6,000 miles away. “He’s aware of quite a lot,” she said.

And as long as she and Reynolds could get a computer program to handle Amharic, a Semitic language with an alphabet based on the Ge’ez script, she was eager to help.