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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 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).


Honors Students

Advisor of Omisha Manglani, Undergraduate student: Omisha is an undergraduate student, double majoring in Environmental and Sustainability, and International Agriculture and Rural Development. In Spring 2019, she began her independent research with Dr. Kassam; looking into the sustainability of lifestyles in Spiti Valley, a remote region of the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve of the Trans Himalayas. She is investigating the peoples' dependence on wild foods, indigenous medicinal knowledge systems, and the inclusion of local knowledge in educational institutions. Omisha aims to reframe context-specific educational initiatives that nurture, rather than threaten, indigenous cultural diversity.


Advisor of Hayley Tessler, Undergraduate student: Hayley Tessler is an undergraduate student, majoring in Environment and Sustainability and minoring in Inequality Studies at Cornell University. She began her work with Dr. Kassam in the Spring of 2020 as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for AIIS 1110: Indigenous Issues in Global Perspectives. Her interests vary, but include reptile wildlife management, specifically the endangered Blanding's Turtle, and disparities in access to natural resources. Under the guidance of Dr. Kassam, she is investigating how places of worship in the Oneida Lake watership contribute to food security, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Advisor of Anna Ullmann, Undergraduate student: Anna Ullmann is pursuing an Environmental and Sustainability Sciences major and Climate Change minor at Cornell University. As part of the Research Honors Program, she consolidated her passion for wildlife conservation as well as her interest in working with communities to formulate her thesis. She is collaboratively working with Dr. Kassam’s research group in the Roshorv and Savnob villages of Tajikistan. Here, Anna is investigating the impact of climate change on key indicator species and livelihood species in the context of Ecological Calendars.


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: