Sambath Jayapregasham and Melissa Vidmar chat over ZOOM

Ph.D. Student Profile: Meet Sambath Jayapregasham

I had the pleasure of “zooming” with Sambath Jayapregasham. After reading his profile you will see how he embodies our mottos of “education with purpose” and “research with impact.”

Please be on the lookout for this future leader who is sure to make his mark in solving environmental challenges around the world.

Education chart of Sambath Jayapregasham

“I was very interested in social science but didn’t know where I wanted to take my economics degree after I graduated.”

At Sciences Po, Sambath's undergraduate courses focused on economic issues where he learned concepts of economics, current theoretical and empirical debates within the discipline, and quantitative methods.

During his last year, he participated in a study abroad program at the University of Nairobi. It was during this experience he found his interest in international development.

“I realized that I wanted to pursue international development,  so after I graduated, I applied to Yale where I received my master’s degree.”

In addition to his passion for international development, he found the field of environmental and natural resources of interest as well.

"I did a lot of research to figure out how I might merge my two interests."

After receiving his master’s from Yale, Sambath took a few years off. It was during this time he began scouring the web to find opportunities that would complement his two interests.

He did just that.

“I found Elinor Benami’s website where she had posted an opportunity for Virginia Tech students to work on a project on land use change in Morocco with a focus on drought-prone crops to drought-resistant crops. I was working in Florida at the time but I still reached out to her.” 

Benami, an assistant professor in the department, responded to his request, and soon after he joined the project. 

Even though Sambath was not a student at Virginia Tech at the time, he was instrumental in the project and later went on to work with two other faculty members of the department. The first was with, Susan Chen, associate professor, graduate program director, and director of the Data Science for the Public Good program, and then with Anubhab Gupta, assistant professor.

After these concluded, he went to Montana state as a research associate in their department of Ag Economics. 

“I knew I wanted to pursue a Ph.D.”

This time as fate would have it, Benami reached out to Jayapregasham about an opportunity with the university's Global Change Center.

He jumped on the recommendation and quickly attended the two information sessions with faculty and current Ph.D. fellows at the time. 

He submitted his application and was accepted.

The Global Change Center at Virginia Tech’s interdisciplinary graduate education program provides Ph.D. students with an interdisciplinary perspective on rapid global change and equips them with a unique toolset to be the next leaders solving the most pressing socio-environmental challenges of our time.

The program has more than 70 Ph.D. fellows from numerous departments each year.

“I have really enjoyed working with different faculty and students that are not from our department. We have the same passions, but bring different perspectives.”

As the first fellow with a social science background, he and the program's cohort are working to make impactful change. The program enhances skills and provides knowledge in leadership, science communication, stakeholder engagement, collaboration, environmental justice, and other competencies to prepare the cohort for their futures.  

I asked Sambath what his future goals are after he earns the Ph.D. title.

“The research I am doing integrates social science techniques with cool scientific tools like satellite data to measure drought.”

While he wants to continue his interdisciplinary research, “it may be in an academic role, but I have talked with speakers from AAEC’s seminar series who tell me that many international organizations are shifting to this type of research.”

It seems there are different opportunities that exist for Sambath. Whichever path he chooses, we know he will make an impact.

Written by: Melissa Vidmar
March 2023