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Interview in the village of Arba Tensa, Debark District, Ethiopia

Our research group conducts human ecological research in partnership with indigenous peoples and local communities. We seek to innovate policy and practice in civil society by re-envisioning paradigms that are failing. Our current research efforts coalesce around areas of high altitude and latitude where ecological and socio-cultural change are critically affecting food, health, energy, and water sovereignty. Through participatory research, we incorporate qualitative and quantitative techniques from the social and biophysical sciences as well as the humanities. We take a pluralistic approach, recognizing that effective solutions are based on multiple epistemological paradigms.  We assert that indigenous knowledge helps to conserve biocultural diversity in ways that are beyond the reach of single-disciplinary approaches. By supporting communities as they anticipate and respond to change, we engage complex ethical and policy challenges of the 21st century.

Graduate Students

Advisor of Talia Chorover, MS student: Talia is working on the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project in Central Asia. She is interested in community-based approaches to ecological conservation, food sovereignty, and high-elevation ecosystem dynamics. Talia received her undergraduate degree in Geology from Oberlin College. She has since worked as a field ecologist in the Sierra Nevada mountains, an environmental consultant for Clean Water Action in Boston, and a park ranger at Katmai National Park in Alaska.


Advisor of Michael Dunaway, PhD student: Michael's interest is Indigenous energy sovereignty. His current research investigates the feasibility of refining biodiesel with solar power. His PhD research will test the theoretical feasibility by building a small-scale, solar-powered biodiesel refinery on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. By creating a pilot, the hope is to have a demonstration effect where other reservations engage in similar sustainable energy development initiatives. Michael is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.


Advisor of Abraham Francis, MS student: Abraham is working on applied research to develop a biocultural land Stewardship strategy for existing and newly settled Native American Land Claims on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, Akwesasne. His research interests include health, education and cultural foundations as a means to empower Indigenous Communities. Abraham has a BS in Microbiology from Cornell. His past experiences include community empowerment, engagement and research with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.


Advisor of Leo V Louis, MS/PhD student: Leo's interests are in understanding the complex and dynamic relationships between people and their environment. In particular he is interested in how these relationships have been, and continue to be, impacted by climate change, colonialism, and an ever globalizing world. As part of the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project, he brings past experience as an anthropologist and botanist. Leo received a BS in ethnobotany from The University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and has conducted research on the Island of 'Eua in Tonga, in the kingdom of Bhutan, and in Hawai'i. Leo has been awarded funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship program (GRFP).


Advisor of Elle Nevers, MPS student: Elle (Ellen) is studying International Agriculture and Rural Development in the MPS Global Development program. Her research interests include the sustainable farming methods of isolated communities and the impact an individual's degree of integration in their food system has on their relationship with their environment. She holds a BA in Chinese Language and Literature and a BA in French Studies from Boston University. Elle plans to use her language background to research and connect with isolated farming communities in East Asia.


Advisor of Kayla Scheimreif, MS student: Kayla is working on the Ecological Calendars and Climate Adaptation in the Pamirs (ECCAP) project in Central Asia. Her research interests include rural diaspora, climate change, and traditional ecological knowledge. Kayla has a BA in Natural History from Sterling College in Vermont. Her past experiences include collecting data on nesting shorebirds in the Arctic and researching traditional ecological knowledge in Mongolia.


Advisor of Madeline Rich: Maddy (Madeline) is majoring in General Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology. Her thesis project synthesizes place-based knowledge from communities around the Oneida Lake Watershed of New York, with the ultimate goal of creating an ecological calendar to build resiliency against climate change. Her past experiences include studies in biomechanics, taxonomy, and developmental biology. Madeline is an avid scuba diver and rock climber.

Post-Doctoral Associates

Supervisor of Aziz Ali, PhD: Aziz Ali has 25 years of professional experiences in Rural Development and in Strategic and Participatory Planning, with a special focus on food security and livelihoods improvement. His work in natural resource management has included projects in agriculture, forestry, rangelands/livestock, and water resources. Much of the time, Aziz has employed participatory approaches that help to empower local communities. Aziz also has conducted research on the above themes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Pamir region of Tajikistan − providing him much first-hand experience with rural mountain communities. Recently, Aziz was awarded the prestigious South Asia Fellowship 2018 from Cornell University for his work on "Vulnerability and Disaster Risk Assessment in the Emerging Scenario of Climate Change in North-Eastern Afghanistan." Aziz holds a Professional Master Degree in Natural Resources Management from International Institute for Aerospace, Survey and Earth Science in the Netherlands, and an MSc in Botany and Forestry from Peshawar University, Pakistan. Currently, Mr. Ali is pursuing his PhD degree at Philipps Universität, in Marburg, Germany.


Supervisor of Morgan Ruelle, PhD: Morgan's research is focused on the use of ecological calendars to anticipate climate trends and variability. He is working to document traditional ecological calendars and other phenological knowledge, identify reliable seasonal cues that correlate with both weather and livelihood activities, and initiate community-based phenological monitoring. He will be leading field work in the Standing Rock Nation as well as communities surrounding Oneida Lake in New York.


Past Graduate Students

Past Visiting Fellows

Past Undergraduate Honours Students

Past Undergraduate Research Assistants

Listed below are internship projects of Dr. Kassam's Northern Planning and Development Studies Students (NPDS) which were geared to integrate their Major with the NPDS programme: