Posted: September 1, 2015

The School for Field Studies (SFS) presented its Distinguished Student Researcher Award today to six of its alumni in recognition of the exceptional environmental research they conducted while studying abroad during the spring semester of 2015. The award was presented to: Ethan Freedman of Tufts University; Leslie Ramos of Florida International University; Trevor Bossi of Dickinson College; Rani Kumar of University of San Diego; Alexandra Cohen of Clark University; and Kayla Deur of Hollins University.

Each year, The School for Field Studies honors its most exceptional students with Distinguished Student Researcher Awards for their important contributions in environmental research. SFS semester students engage in undergraduate research guided by SFS faculty on projects related to each Center’s long-term strategic research plan. Outcomes of these Directed Research (DR) projects provide information and recommendations to community members and other stakeholders on critical, local environmental issues.

Students are nominated by SFS faculty based on their demonstrated sophistication in research design, fieldwork, reporting, and contribution to the Center’s research plan. The SFS award also recognizes the student’s leadership exhibited while working with a team of student and faculty researchers in the field.

SFS Dean of Academic Programs Dr. Mark Seifert and Assistant Dean Dr. Meghan Graham MacLean presented the award this fall with a nomination from the students’ DR advisors.


Ethan Freedman, Tufts University and SFS Center for Wildlife Management Studies, Tanzania
Employing extensive land transects, Freedman explored the spatial and density determinants of ground bird species in the Tarangire-Manyara region for his research project, Correlates for the Spatial Distribution of Ground-dwelling Birds in the Kwakuchinja Corridor. Because spatial dimension data on spurfowl, sandgrouse, and guineafowl are scant in East Africa, this work serves as an important baseline study.

His work may enhance understanding of the importance of bushland and other limited anthropogenic-changed landscapes for the conservation of ground birds. Additionally, Professor Christian Kiffner, Freedman’s DR advisor, commends Ethan for displaying “enthusiasm, great leadership, responsibility, and determination” during the research process.

Leslie Ramos, Florida International University and SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica
The objective of Ramos’s research project, Community organization for recycling management in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, was to observe the concerns of local business owners about the efficiency of the current recycling system in Santa Teresa and collect their suggestions for improvement, as well as evaluate their willingness to participate in a new recycling program. Ramos used surveys and interviews to suggest specific ways the community can organize to create a committee to implement an integrated recycling management system that increases the participation of residents through community action, improved collection, and education.

“Leslie has expressed an interest in continuing her education in the field of community organization,” Professor Mary Little, Ramos’s DR advisor, notes. “Hopefully this award will assist her on her way to generating positive change in the world.”

Trevor Bossi, Dickinson College and SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies, Turks & Caicos Islands
Bossi’s research project, Size-selectivity of fishing gears in the Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus), yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus schrysyrys), and hogfish (Lachnaolaimus maximus) fisheries on South Caicos, significantly contributes to the Center’s ongoing research plan. His work incorporated past literature, continuous data collection, local stakeholder perspectives, and clear data analysis to represent a concept of commercial fishing methodology that can and potentially will affect the livelihoods of the Turks and Caicos Islanders.

Professor Kathy Lockhart, DR Bossi’s research advisor, says that “the information can act as a ‘springboard’ for the local stakeholders to have an open discussion of management strategies and activities in the fin-fishery of the Turks & Caicos Islands.”

Rani Kumar, University of San Diego and SFS Center for Andes-Amazon Studies, Peru
The aim of Kumar’s research project, Amazonian Migration Patterns: Causes and consequences of Andean settlement in the community of Pillcopata, Peru, was to construct a historical timeline of Andean settlement in the community and to chronicle the migratory experience. Kumar’s work revealed valuable historical details on settlement patterns that provide a sound foundation for the development of the political ecology research agenda at the Center.

Kumar’s DR advisor Professor Lisa DePaoli remarks that the connections Rani made within the community of Pillcopata and the interest she generated during the community presentations will be particularly beneficial to the Center’s research plan development.

Alexandra Cohen, Clark University and SFS Center for Rainforest Studies, Australia
Cohen’s research project, Examining gender variations in values in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia, was analysis of difference by gender on conservation goals and environmentalism among respondents. Her findings suggest that women in the Wet Tropics may have an increased sense of place and thus have placed increased importance on conservation education.

Professor Justus Kithiia, Cohen’s DR advisor, says that Alexandra “exhibited a lively curiosity and dug deeper in the subject matter.” Cohen suggested that the political implications of the findings may have potential for future study, as significantly fewer women hold government positions, but may be more likely to value the environment.

Kayla Deur, Hollins University and SFS Center for Mekong Studies, Cambodia
Deur’s research project, Traditional Medicine Usage and the Transmission of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Three Villages Near Phnom Kulen National Park, explored the usage of traditional medicine on a household level, as well as how traditional knowledge is being transmitted cross-generationally and spatially across village domains. Her work provides a sound foundation for future research at the Center, and Professor Lisa Arensen, Deur’s DR advisor, comments that her project “is an impressive example of undergraduate research.”

Through her work, Deur contributed to a growing list of plants that were identified as medicinally important by locals. A total of 111 plants were described by 27 interviewees; 82 of these plants were new additions to the Center’s taxonomy. Deur’s report provides an updated species list (in English and Khmer), and is a significant contribution to the limited body of formally documented knowledge of medicinal plants in the region.