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New York

Young Professionals Group: Board Members

Akshay Arora

Akshay has spent the majority of life living in cities which helped foster his deep appreciation for nature and all that Earth has to offer. What drew him to The Nature Conservancy is its use of science and how it applies the results to the projects the Conservancy participates in. His passions for environmental conservation revolve around methods of sustainability. His favorite YP activities are the summer hiking trips.

Born in New Delhi, India, Akshay moved to New York at the age of 9 and has resided here since. He graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science from New York University and a B.E. in Computer Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology. Professionally, Akshay has spent the majority of the past decade working in the financial industry working for Onyx Capital Management and BlueMountain Capital. Recently he formed his own company, Render Dragon, to design and create games.

In his spare time Akshay enjoys skiing, practicing tae-kwon do, playing soccer and furthering his foreign language skills. Akshay served as a co-chair of the 2012 YP Benefit, and currently co-chairs the YP Board


Eugenia Choi

Eugenia is an internationally renowned concert violinist whose travels from performing on the world's concert stages have exposed her to biodiversity on five continents and influenced her concern for environmental conservation. She is particularly active in global climate change initiatives, pernambuco reforestation in Brazil's Mata Atlântica, and local conservation projects in New York State.

Born in Canada, Eugenia earned her Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate degrees from the Juilliard School in New York. She is also an alumna of Dartmouth College and is currently on the violin faculty of the University of British Columbia and New York University. Eugenia is a founding chair of the Young Professionals Board and has been involved with the group since 2005.


Alexandra Ferguson

Alexandra connected with nature from an early age during family holidays - camping in Hither Hills State Park in Montauk and in Martha’s Vineyard, chasing fishing holes in remote Canadian back country and in the Adirondacks, and horseback riding in the hills of Tuscany and Provence. Although in her adult life she admits to a preference for facilities with running water, she still loves getting covered in mud in a backcountry trail.

Born and raised in Westchester NY, Alexandra graduated from The Gallatin School at NYU. Following a career in the fashion industry, she started her own home décor line in 2009 under the brand alexandra ferguson. Working in exclusively in eco-friendly materials, and manufacturing locally in Brooklyn, her line is carried in stores around the world and has been featured in The New York Times, the Today show, Forbes.com, House Beautiful, and the HBO series “Girls.”


Jason Giagrande

With his humble beginnings working at a local bar and grill in his youth, then moving on to the NYC night life scene, and eventually on to an obstacle course of his own businesses that included everything from construction companies to restaurants, Jason has found a way to weave all his experiences and his ever expanding knowledge into an expansive industry package. Currently, as FLIK's Director of Food Service Operations and Events at NBCUniversal (NY), Jason is taking his love of cooking, event planning expertise, certification as a personal trainer, as well as his relationships with some of the best Chefs in the country to bring a hip, trendy, yet healthy flavor to 30 Rock. He has also teamed up with NBCUniversal on some of the company's many important day to day objectives and initiatives, such as the Healthy at NBCU program and Green is Universal.

Jason's knowledge and passion for healthy foods and living has assisted him in becoming an asset to NBCUniversal and its many sustainable living programs. This focus is something he says he plans on continuing and expanding throughout his career.


Jared Licina

Jared has held a lifelong interest in conservation, growing up in South Africa, and becoming involved in outdoor activities from an early age. His parents and school played a huge role in his appreciation of the diversity and fragility of nature and the environment, and his love of hiking and wildlife was developed in the Cederberg Mountains near Cape Town and the Umfolozi region of KwaZulu-Natal. He also loves the beach and finds it the best way to get away from it all in corporate life.

After finishing his undergraduate degree in Finance and Economics at the University of Cape Town, he obtained a Masters Degree in Economics from NYU on a Fulbright Scholarship. After graduation he worked in New York and London for BlueMountain Capital, and now works as an associate at Highbridge Capital, a multi-strategy hedge fund. He enjoys travelling, reading, debating, sports, and experiencing as much of New York as possible. Jared has been involved in The Nature Conservancy since 2009, and chairs the Membership Committee. 


Joel Papo

A longtime member of The Nature Conservancy, Joel doesn't like bird watching, and isn't nearly the environmentalist his younger sister is.

Joel lives in Brooklyn and is a senior asssociate at K. Backus & Associates, a real estate development consulting firm.  He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College (1997) and Columbia Business School (2003).

Joel is currently serving as Chair of the YP Real Estate Group.


Gayle Schmidt

Gayle has been involved with The Nature Conservancy since 2004, volunteering with the Eastern New York Chapter and then joining up with the Young Professionals in late 2008 with the committee planning for their annual benefit.

Gayle graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in Biology and a concentration in Environmental Studies. Because of what she learned there, she appreciates the methods of The Nature Conservancy's work and hopes to help further that with her support of the organization. She hopes that through the special events and programs that she plans with the group and otherwise, people will have fun while developing an appreciation for the natural world and finding a reason to support conservation efforts.

Found outdoors as much as possible, she enjoys swimming, skiing, hiking and backpacking--especially on trails that lead to a rewarding view, as well as traveling to new places.

Gayle is Chair of the Events Committee.


Melinda Seli

Growing up by the ocean in Florida, Melinda has always had a deep appreciation for the environment and the need to protect it. She was inspired by her father’s love for nature, and has wonderful memories of spending time on the beach with family and friends. That is why when the opportunity to volunteer for The Nature Conservancy came along, she could not help but become involved.

Melinda attended Tufts University where she graduated with a degree in international relations and psychology. During university, she spent a year studying abroad in London. After graduating, Melinda began working for Mercer in Miami and then New York. While at Mercer, she had the opportunity to work in business development and marketing for multi-national clients. She is currently a marketing manager at Oliver Wyman, a global management consulting company.

Melinda speaks Spanish fluently, and enjoys traveling, running, and practicing her skiing.

Since 2010, she has been involved with The Nature Conservancy and currently serving as Chair of the Development Committee, which focuses on initiatives such as the YPG Summer Membership program for corporations.


Tom Rosenberg

One of the originators of this clan of happy young tree huggers, Tom currently acts as an Advisor to the YPG.

He has previously served on the Boards of the Eastern New York Chapter and the New York State Board of The Nature Conservancy.

When not fly-fishing, reviewing strategies with the YP Board and Committees, or hosting parties for the YPG, Tom spends his free time as a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch.

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