Prior to completing her Ph.D., Elena was in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands to complete her Master's Degree in Marine and Environmental Science, studying social-ecological systems and community resilience, and how important coral reefs are to the environment, livelihoods and culture there. 

During her time on the island, she also held an independent contract position for Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, studying zoning issues for a private property development and how it impacted surrounding coral reef environments.

She also served as the primary contact and liaison for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coastal use mapping project that incorporated local views into the creation of a map of the local area. This map became useful for resource managers in regard to how the watershed is actually used, and played an important role in the development of future regional planning.