During a fall 2021 study excursion to Palau, Vickira Hengst ’21 climbed over limestone rock islands with a heavy pack, mask, snorkel, fins, and camera gear as she and her student colleagues finished a long-term project surveying of all 72 marine lakes in the 500-island Micronesian country.
“We swam in the lakes to identify fish and do a species count,” says Hengst, who received the U of R Hanson Summer Service Scholarship funding the three-and-a-half-month trip. “I also helped lead the mapping of the endangered Palauan sheath bat to prove preliminary data to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission and the Coral Reef Foundation.”
Her work in Palau was not only an extraordinary experience that she is now applying to her career, it was also a fitting finale to her very active career at University of Redlands as a double major: An honors student regularly appearing on the dean’s list, Hengst graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in both global business—receiving the Outstanding Senior of the Year in Global Business Award—and environmental studies in 2021.
She also ran for the cross country and track teams; was a member of the Photography Club and Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity; worked three campus jobs; and served as a lab research assistant, tech assistant, and teaching assistant.
She was also awarded a Summer Harris Scholarship for Marketing as a sophomore and interned in Munich, Germany; “I worked on the marketing team with Eddie Bauer at their international headquarters,” says Hengst, who is a second-generation Bulldog—her dad, Robert Godfrey, graduated in 1977, and her aunt, Susan Godfrey, graduated in 1978.
With the urging of Professor John Walsh during her sophomore year, she attended a climate reality conference in Atlanta led by former Vice President Al Gore. “That impacted my desire to dedicate my career to working in professions that combat the climate crisis,” she says. “Professor Tim Krantz’s ornithology and physical geography courses also opened my eyes to our environment.”
In addition to extensive family travel growing up, including routine trips exploring Europe and visiting her mother’s relatives in Germany, she spent a college semester studying in Barcelona, Spain, and her first trip to Palau was during her sophomore May Term. “So much travel has shaped my personal views and understanding of other cultures; it gives me a worldly perspective on life,” says Hengst, who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.
She also interned at Redlands-based technology company Esri, which helped Hengst establish her career as a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist and researcher. “What I love most about GIS is that there are so many applications for it,” she says. “It’s satisfying to perform research using large data sets that may contribute to solutions for larger humanitarian issues, like the climate crisis.”
At the start of March, Hengst began a new job as a LiDAR (a sensing method using light to measure the Earth’s surface) data processing technician at Bridger Photonics, a Bozeman, Montana, company that conducts gas mapping. This is right where she wants to be as she plots the future.
Her several months in Palau also aligned well with her professional intentions: “I would like to support coastal communities addressing environmental issues by mapping water resources and using technology and GIS to create healthier environments and influence urban planning and development,” she says.
“Climate change will be such a pressing issue in my lifetime and for generations to come. … Whether at the international level or the community level, I’m determined to have a positive impact on the world.”