Posted: February 23, 2017

The School for Field Studies (SFS) presented its Distinguished Student Researcher Award to two of its alumni in recognition of the exceptional environmental research they conducted while studying abroad during the fall semester of 2016. The award was presented to: Cher Chow of Gordon College; and Helen Wilson of George Washington 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 spring with a nomination from the students’ DR advisors.

Cher Chow, Gordon College and the SFS Centre for Rainforest Studies, Australia
Chow’s research project, Assessing boundary dynamics across a tropical rainforest-wet sclerophyll-savanna ecotone through young tree and grass communities, examined wet sclerophyll forests in the Wet Tropics region of northeastern Australia, questioning the frequent ecological classification of wet sclerophyll as a type of savanna woodland.

Cher’s research has a number of significant implications for management and conservation of such forests, including the possibility that regular fires are necessary for the survival of wet sclerophyll vegetation. She provides strong insights into how her findings relate to the larger debate of wet sclerophyll forest classification, and her work will likely be expanded upon by future projects at the Centre.

Professor Catherine Pohlman, Chow’s DR advisor, remarks that Cher “was instrumental in maintaining the thorough organization of the DR team’s data collection and data entry” and works with commendable “morale and enthusiasm.” She adds that Chow’s presentation to community stakeholders was “well-structured and professional.”


Cher Chow

Helen Wilson, George Washington University and the SFS Program on Himalayan Studies, Bhutan
The objective of Wilson’s research project, Migration in Choehor Valley, Bhutan: Demographics, Dynamics, and Decision-Making, was to better understand the demographics of rural-urban migrations in Bhutan’s rapidly urbanizing Choekhor Valley. Her project incorporates interviews with a range of local stakeholders in order to explore the various factors influencing migration patterns in the valley, a topic of great concern to the Bhutanese government but one currently little-studied in a formal setting. Thus, Helen’s work addresses an important knowledge gap and forms a strong baseline for future research as Bhutan continues to urbanize.

Professor Matt Branch, Wilson’s DR advisor, remarks that Helen is “an excellent scholar and a superb student” with the ability to “navigate and overcome unique hurdles…while keeping up good spirits throughout the research process.”


Helen Wilson

CONTACT: Leslie Granese, Vice President for Institutional Relations and Enrollment, lgranese@fieldstudies.org, 978-219-5120

About The School for Field Studies: For more than 35 years, The School for Field Studies (SFS), the United States’ largest environmental study abroad program for college undergraduates, has combined hands-on, multi-disciplinary environmental studies with scientific research to propose sustainable solutions to critical environmental problems. SFS students work with local communities to discover practical ways to manage their natural resources, and in the process undergo a transformational experience that helps them to advance their careers as skilled professionals and to become globally aware citizens.