Lecturer in Political and Social Dimensions of Conservation
Ph.D. in Plant and Soil Science
University of Vermont (VT, USA)
M.S. in Natural Resources and Environment, Graduate Certificate in Latin American & Caribbean Studies
University of Michigan (MI, USA)
Kenya Spring ‘01
B.S. in Environmental Studies & Spanish
Washington University in St. Louis (MO, USA)
I joined the Office of Academic Affairs at The School for Field Studies in early 2017. Prior to joining to SFS, I was a faculty member in the Environmental Studies Program at Wellesley College, where I taught courses on food systems, tropical agroecology, botany, and writing. Much of my teaching utilized examples from Latin America, where my research is based. I also have experience researching and developing innovative pedagogies and effective student evaluations for the sciences. While at Wellesley, I initiated the Science Pedagogy Working Group, an affinity group for faculty interested in innovative pedagogy, sharing resources, and rethinking how we approach science education more generally.
My experience in SFS-Kenya ’01 started me on my career path investigating human-environment relationships using transdisciplinary approaches. Prior to Kenya, I studied Spanish language and environmental issues in Santiago, Chile, and had the opportunity to travel throughout the country—including backpacking in Torres del Paine, visiting penguin colonies in Punta Arenas, and marveling at volcanoes near Puerto Varas. I returned to Patagonia in graduate school with a course examining the diverse potential socioecological impacts of proposed hydroelectric projects in the region. My experiences in Chile and Kenya paved the way for future research and teaching interests in agroecology, social and environmental justice, participatory action research, and biodiversity conservation in Latin America. I received my PhD in Plant and Soil Sciences from the University of Vermont in 2013. For my dissertation research, I collaborated with coffee cooperatives in northern Nicaragua to explore biodiversity conservation and farmer decision making, asking how the ecological landscape interacts with the social landscape across coffee systems.
As the Assistant Dean for SFS, I have frequent opportunities to work with our faculty on questions regarding agroecological landscapes as well as pedagogical approaches, and as Lecturer in Political and Social Dimensions of Conservation at SFS’ newest center in Chilean Patagonia, I am excited to work directly with our students in the field.
In general, I ask questions about how management decisions respond to and modify ecological and social landscapes. As a doctoral student I investigated management decisions of cooperatively organized coffee farmers in Nicaragua, and the effects of these decisions on shade tree conservation. Using a Participatory Action Research approach, I developed the project in collaboration with producers and cooperative administrators to ensure outcomes useful to the community. Methods included tree surveys and farmer interviews to empirically engage with both natural and social science factors contributing to this complex system. I found that although shade tree densities declined over a ten-year period, species diversity did not. Interviews revealed farmers utilize their social networks to make management decisions, suggesting a tension between a collective value in maintaining tree diversity in the long term and thinning trees to increase yields in the short term. This work contributes to agroecology by identifying the trade-offs facing smallholders who are simultaneously sustaining their own livelihoods through cash crop production, as well as conserving a biodiverse landscape. This work revealed several questions for future research, which I hope to pursue during my time at SFS.