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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 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 Tuguldur Ekhtsetseg, Humphrey Fellow: Tuguldur is from Mongolia where he has been a field biologist for The Nature Conservancy since 2009. He continues to work to expand effective conservation efforts in protected areas in Mongolia. Tuguldur graduated from the Mongolian State University of Education. His MS thesis was on Ecology of the Siberian Ibex in Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Mongolia. His research interest is community based conservation, community participation in policy decision making or co-management, wildlife monitoring, park management and climate change in grassland ecosystems.


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 Yerlan Issimov, MS student: Yerlan has international experience in transportation and logistics for businesses Central Asian. His research interests are in developing policies and strategies for Kazakhstan in the framework of a Trans-Eurasian trade network. This research will highlight the potential opportunities for maximizing the economic benefit from the Eurasian Land Bridge or the New Silk Road, and the Indian analog of the New Silk road called "North-South". His research will cover: the revitalized concept of the Silk Road, evaluate the best traditions of the historic Silk Road before colonization, investigate the commodity exchange of Astana International Finance Center territory, digitalize business-processes and usage of large-scale data, examine the Indian trade way project called "North-South" as a counterbalance to the Chinese Silk Road project, and examine infrastructure needs of cities and villages for a revitalized Silk Road.


Advisor of Daler Kaziev, MS student: Daler has completed his BA at American University of Central Asia, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) majoring in the Environmental Management and Sustainability and minoring in Anthropology. His BA thesis is on community resilience and commodification of nature in Eastern Pamirs of Tajikistan since 2015. For the past 3 years, He has been working with Dr. Kassam and his team of researchers and students on projects concerning Ecological Calendars in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.


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 Laura Simmons-Stern, MPS student: Laura's research interests are in community-based approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as rural sustainable development strategies. Laura received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies with a certificate in Community Action and Public Policy from Connecticut College. She has since worked with organizations in rural Zambia, Ghana, and Uganda, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mexico, as a Peace Corps Trainer in Timor-Leste, and with an international sustainability consulting firm in Boston.


Honors Students

Advisor of Iriel Edwards, Undergraduate student/ Research assistant: Iriel Edwards is an Environmental and Sustainability Sciences Major at Cornell University with a minor in Entomology and Music. She began her work with Dr. Kassam in the Spring of 2018 as his research assistant. Since then she has begun her own research wild foods and their contribution to food secruity in the Onida Lake Watershed of Upstate New York. Outside of research, Iriel is involved in the Feederwatch program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as well as Cornell's Steel Band ,and Pan African Drum Ensemble.


Past Graduate Students

Past Post Docs and 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: