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December 2, 2014

Featured Student: Adrian Robins

adrianMany students entering the University of Oregon think of Environmental Studies as a potential major from the day they arrive, but Adrian Robins was not one of them. He initially planned on studying psychology, so when he and a friend signed up for an introduction to environmental humanities, it was as a freshman year elective. “I wasn’t expecting what happened,” Adrian remarks. “I had taken a class in environmental science in high school, but reading people like Emerson and Leopold in ENVS 203, and learning about [organizations dedicated to food sovereignty], something about that woke me up and made me want to do more with my life.”

Adrian has since taken the opportunity to not only continue his classroom studies in the field of environmental studies, but to actually visit the field. He travelled to India for a study abroad program, where he learned from subsistence farmers. “I hadn’t really thought about alternate ways of dealing with food before because I’d never had the chance to see subsistence (plus it’s easy to ignore when you go to the supermarket for everything), but there are communities where the crop is everything, and control of that crop is critical.” This perspective has led him to a devoted interest in food sovereignty and the fight to protect it—including some time after his study abroad program with Navdanya, one of the organizations he first heard of in ENVS 203.

Food sovereignty and the importance of crop diversity has also followed Adrian into his thesis work. He is now a senior, graduating in June, and is in the process of gathering information about local seed saving networks. He is interested in the hows and whys that influence which seeds farmers choose to save. A number of crop varieties, he explains “are extinct or going extinct, and it’s a form of biodiversity that I think people don’t really pay attention to. But we’re heading to big changes environmentally, and the only way to ensure that we have food in the future is to have a diverse number of crops that can potentially survive.” Although Adrian initially planned for an environmental studies major, this focus on the applications of ecology to agriculture has led him to pursue a major in environmental science, with a minor in biology.

Many students have a similarly windy path through their college experience, and Adrian enjoys helping them out: he works currently as an Ecopeer, a position he has held for a year an a half, where he has the chance to advise undergraduate peers about the Environmental Studies Program. “It’s a pretty complicate major because we’re so interdisciplinary and it’s a big program, but I think my brain just works well with scheduling and organizing. Plus, I’ve liked my work because I’ve made a lot of connections to my peers in ENVS.”

Now that his undergraduate schedule is mostly set, what is Adrian planning for his own future? It’s a bit early to decide, but he’s considering agriculture-oriented positions with the Peace Corps or—perhaps—applying for a Fulbright scholarship to go back to India. Stop by the main ENVS office to chat and learn more!

June 3, 2014

Featured Faculty: Sarah Wald

The Environmental Studies Program is excited to welcome Sarah Wald as our first joint hire with the department of English. She is set to begin teaching in both departments this fall, and is also excited to engage with the new ENVS-affiliated Food Studies Specialization.

Dr. Wald’s interest in environmental studies began when she herself was an undergraduate, during the global justice protests against the WTO in Seattle in 1999. The rhetoric of the movement intrigued her: “‘Teamsters and Turtles, together at last,’ was one of the slogans,” she recalls. “I wanted to know why it was so strange to imagine environmentalists and labor activists working together. Why weren’t mainstream environmentalists more engaged with the issues facing working people and people of color?” This sort of questioning triggered her involvement in the field, and she also believes that it sustains her current research, which strives to link Race and Ethnic Studies with environmental cultural studies.

Both inform a manuscript she is currently completing, entitled ‘To the Farmer in all of us’: Race, Nature, and Citizenship in Representations of Californian Farmers and Farmworkers. In it Wald mines newspaper articles, pamphlets, novels, and short stories for twentieth and twenty-first century Asian American and Latina/o voices, asking the questions: what have been the representations of Californian agricultural laborers, how do cultural understandings of nature “shape the racial gate-keeping of the nation,” and “what do these works tell us about the ways we imagine nature and landscape in relation to nation and the ways we racialize that relationship?”

Wald is excited about the opportunity to continue this scholarship at the University of Oregon, and as a professor affiliated with the Food Studies Specialization, she is interested in how a focus on producers of food, rather than consumers, might help develop the sustainable food movement.  “Documentaries like Food, Inc.,” she explains, “tell us that we can vote with our dollars. Promoting consumer citizenship has all sorts of ideological consequences that we don’t often consider, though. Emphasizing consumption as the primary way to exercise political power privileges those with more money. If you vote with your dollar, those with the most dollars have the most votes.  It also suggests that privatization (rather than federal regulation) is the solution to environmental ills, worker exploitation, and food safety.”

As a result, Wald wants to find a way to prioritize producers’ voices, and she believes that the UO’s focus on collaborative engagement with the food communities of Eugene and Springfield is a valuable tool for getting there. Not only do such partnerships pair activism with academics, they prompt important questions: do we best reduce pesticides by buying organic, or by increasing regulation? What issues are important to consumers, and are they different than those important to producers? Which voices are currently prioritized? “There’s a lot of inspiring scholarship and teaching happening in the program around issues of race and ethnicity and environmental justice,” Wald explains. She expects that this focus meshed with community engagement can be a powerful mix.

Such perspectives will inform her teaching next year, including a graduate course entitled Ecocritical Approaches to Race and Ethnicity and Food Matters. In the mean time, she is currently settling in to the city and is looking for recommendations for hiking and biking close to town. Please join us in welcoming her to Eugene!

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

June 1, 2014

Featured Student: Francesca Varela

Francesca_Varela_smENVS major Francesca Varela hasn’t even graduated college yet, but she has already published her first novel. Call of the Sun Child  became available March 7 through Homebound Publications—a work of young-adult fiction whose protagonist, Sempra, comes of age within a post apocalyptic society that has shut her and her community within a sealed, sustainable dome. In this world, the sun has grown so intense as to force the dome-bound humans to become nocturnal, and the most horrible punishment is to be cast out in exile. Nevertheless, Sempra begins to wonder: what is outside the dome? “When she and her childhood friend, Alden, discover a forbidden book, she begins to question the facility, and, with it, everything she has ever known.”

Call of the Sun Child draws on environmental themes, so it comes as no surprise that Varela engages with the environmental studies community here at the UO. She originally intended to be an English major, but has found that a concentration in ENVS, paired with creative writing, has allowed for broader interests: she has taken classes in geology and restoration ecology, and particularly enjoyed a two week-long class during the summer when she got on-the-ground field research experience.

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“I really like to be out in the field, but I also like writing,” Varela explains. “I don’t see the two as separate, and I think literature is important as it gets people interested in environmental issues.” What’s more, she often gets her best creative ideas while she’s outdoors. In the case of Call of the Sun Child, she thought up the first nugget that would become her story about a year before she began writing, while she was looking at the moon. She began thinking about the possibility of a nocturnal society, and the rest of her apocalyptic adventure followed. All in all the book took about six months to write, including one summer vacation.

Moving forward, Varela intends to continue her engagement with both fieldwork and literature. She already has ideas for another book, and after graduation, hopes to find a job with an environmental nonprofit, or perhaps even at a National Park. In the meantime she’s looking forward to her last year of school, her interests in figure skating and violin, and trips to Opal Creek, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier.

March 31, 2014

Featured Student: Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason. ENVSMegan Gleason wasn’t sure what to expect when she showed up at her first meeting with the University of Oregon’s Climate Justice League. She was a freshman new to campus, and attended because an old high school friend took her along; she admits that “I was nervous about going because I didn’t really know anyone there.”

A Junior now, she has been involved with Climate Justice League for three years and credits it with providing not only a means of getting active with environmental issues, but also a community of like-minded peers. Almost immediately, she recalls, “I got to be really good friends with a lot of the more active members of CJL.”

Gleason has since served as Campaign Coordinator for projects with the Climate Justice League, including a project that helped make recycling and composting more accessible on campus. This year, she decided to make a further commitment and take on the role of Co-Director—meaning “instead of organizing campaign events, or what I call ‘on the ground’ work, I do a lot of behind the scenes work, meeting with Coordinators one on one and making sure things go smoothly.” The job has helped her develop practical leadership skills, as she must devote herself to understanding “the nuts and bolts of what it takes to keep a group together, happy, and on the right track.”

As Co-Director of the Climate Justice League, Gleason also found herself as a speaker at the Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference. She sat on a panel of speakers with others from PSU and OSU who were working on a campaign that the Climate Justice League had also taken on, called Take Back the Tap. It was an apt time to be addressing the issue: the Climate Justice League had recently pushed a campaign through TBTT, with the support of 85% of faculty and 72% of the student body, to go bottled water-free. It looked like UO was about to become the first public university to make the switch, but just weeks before the conference, “UO President Michael Gottfredson  refused not only to pass the policy, but to meet with us to negotiate policy amendments. This decision prompted our campaign to expose the biggest reason the UO said no to going bottled water-free: big money beverage contracts with Pepsi.”

It was a controversial topic, and Gleason was initially nervous to bring it up in front of a public audience. Ultimately, however, she found the presentation to be quite rewarding: “some members of our audience were surprised at our presentation, but I definitely felt a lot of support as I met with people. OHESC is a great place to network and meet people who really want to see institutions of higher education integrate sustainability.”

Moving forward, Gleason expects to graduate in spring of 2015 with a major in environmental studies and a minor in political science. She doesn’t have definite plans after graduation, but law school and graduate school in public policy are on the short list, and she wants to participate next year in the Environmental Leadership Program’s Canopy Connections to get a feel for environmental education. In the meantime she’s taking advantage of interdisciplinary course offerings within the Environmental Studies department, continuing her activism with the Climate Justice League, singing in one of the UO gospel choirs, and reading whenever she gets a spare moment.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

Featured Faculty: Brook Muller

muller_brookBrook Muller has been interested in green building for a while now. “I remember back as high schooler I got a Sierra Club book called Better Homes and Garbage, which told you how to calculate heat gain and loss and how to make a solar house. I got really excited.”

Muller went on to major in Environmental Studies at Brown University and earn his Masters of Architecture at the University of Oregon, after which he worked as the director of a program in sustainable environments and as an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University. He arrived as faculty to the University of Oregon in 2004. Through it all he has maintained a commitment to environmental thinking, and often collaborates in his design projects with both ecologists and professors in the environmental humanities. “I was also just on the Environmental Studies department’s English search committee, which was an extraordinary experience given that I’m interested in the poetics of green building. My summer reading list is now twenty summers long.”

Such interdisciplinary collaboration reflects how his interests have grown since Better Homes and Garbage. Although sustainable architecture typically evokes “performance-based propositions” highlighting issues like energy conservation, Muller pushes the concept further: “I feel like when we start engaging environmental issues more deeply it opens up a new set of possibilities for expression within architecture. Buildings have to perform well, but they are also symbolic; they communicate an ethos. I’m really interested in the poetics of environmental design.”

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This interest finds expression in his new book, Ecology and the Architectural Imagination, which considers how “designers might gain some measure of ecological literacy, and the opportunities that that opens up.” Architects have always used metaphors to describe their work, and Ecology and the Architectural Imagination highlights a few like the “organism metaphor,” that buildings are bodies. Muller explains that “we are smitten with that idea today and we like evolutionary biology terms like replication and genetic switches. However, my contention is that while we use these terms to create buildings that have adaptable façades that may perform better, we can also be thinking about biology in ways that affect how species are actually going to be able to occupy human-dominated environments.”

As an example of such thinking, Muller remarks that his colleague in landscape architecture, Bart Johnson, “would say that cities from the standpoint of species are like rock outcrops—great for shelf- and cavity-nesting birds, but not necessarily for a whole lot else.” By re-examining the meaning and purpose of our buildings, we have the opportunity to design spaces that support a greater diversity of species. As such, Muller sees his book as “a rumination on how the design process would be affected in positive and exciting ways, if we started to think more ecologically.”

Muller also sees the University of Oregon as the perfect place to explore such possibilities. The university has a deep history in green design and issues of social equity: “in the ‘80s, which was sort of the ‘Ronald Reagan era’ of architecture, when one of his first acts as president was to remove all the solar panels from the White House, we hung to our green building values.” As a result, the U of O remains a leader in sustainable architecture and continues to attract architecture students who are interested in environmental issues. Many of them end up as Muller’s students, and he loves it. “I have two students who were in my architecture studio in the winter who are Environmental Studies minors, and it’s great to see smart, capable students in the department, putting together these kind of connections. They understand the significance of what we’re doing.”

Featured Alumna: Alayna Linde

Alayna Linde is a recent 2013 graduate of the Environmental Studies Master’s program, and she is the first to admit to “taking full advantage of the ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ aspect of the program.” With courses in sociology, international studies, non-profit management, and PPPM (Planning, Public Policy and Management), her course load was neither repetitive nor, from the outset, entirely predictable.

alaynaFrom a personality standpoint, she believes that this meshed well with the way she learns from and interacts with the world, given that she thinks her “brain’s default setting is somewhere between one or more disciplines.” Alayna came to the University of Oregon with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but she had also volunteered with an environmental non-profit and was interested in expanding her toolbox when it came to addressing environmental concerns. This ultimately led to degree concentrations in sustainability and affecting social change, with a decidedly non-chemistry lean towards communication work. She believes that her varied academic interests were critical in this development: “even the pursuit of inderdisciplinarity,” she recalls, “can result in good conversations of people listening to other points of view, which I think is a huge part of good communication.”

Alayna know the value of good communication. Her thesis work took her to China with three other ENVS students and the UO Chinese Philanthropic Leadership Association, were she used interviews to examine the use and usefulness of water pasteurization indicators. “Were I to do it all again,” she half-jokes, “I’d devote two years solely to the study of Mandarin, preferably in the community of my intended work, before attempting field research. But I knew that going in!” Such communication hurdles did offer interesting lessons in how to confront them: “I was fortunate to have wonderful Chinese interpreters and friends, and a supportive and motivating support team of advisers and committee members to help me make something of my limited research.”

Nowadays, she puts her skills to work with EnviroIssues, a communications and public outreach consulting firm based in Seattle. As a project coordinator, she supports the outreach work for clients such as the Washington State Department of Ecology, King County Department of Transportation, and Puget Sound Energy. Here again she sees value in varied experiences and a broad background: “At EI, people come from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. This contributes to a collaborative work environment where you have different voices and perspectives working toward common goals, so I think my time in the interdisciplinary ENVS program was a good primer. Moreover, the critical thinking skills, research techniques, advanced writing, and time in front of a classroom as a GTF demanded of me as an ENVS student have served me very well for my work as a consultant.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

January 5, 2014

Featured Faculty: Marsha Weisiger

“History is often the story of unintended consequences. It’s the story of generally well-meaning people—just like ourselves—who were simply trying to make a living or doing their best to manage the environment, but unwittingly inflicted damage. That should be sobering.”

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Marsha Weisiger, who came to the University of Oregon in 2010 as the Julie and Rocky Dixon Chair of U.S. Western History, is dedicated to examining these stories. For over a year she has been researching a project on the environmental history of eight “hybrid” rivers (that is, dammed waterways that are “simultaneously natural and artificial”) throughout the American West. She is interested in the multiple meanings of “wild” in American culture, and particularly in the unintended consequences of a word that goes unexamined. Here, history informs our ideas about the present: Weisiger notes that today, as in the past, “even in the most constructed environments, an autonomous ‘wild nature’ asserts itself, while those places we imagine as wild are often less so than they seem.”

Nevertheless, she remains fundamentally optimistic about our ability to reframe our ideas and our interactions with the environment. History, she believes, demonstrates that activist groups can make change when they dedicate themselves to sound communication, and that “we all need to learn to write clearly, vividly, and compellingly if we want to promote a progressive environmental ethic.”

Weisiger’s teaching therefore puts a strong focus on writing. In addition to her courses in world environmental history, borderland and Native American history, she also teaches seminars specifically oriented toward the craft of writing about history. As with activism and communication, she believes that historical understanding spreads because of good writing.

sheepOf note among her own publications is Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country, a history of livestock grazing, cultural identity, gender, and environmental justice on the Navajo Reservation. Her process depended on historical research and the craft of writing, but also on a host of interdisciplinary endeavors which seem to follow environmental studies—Weisiger notes that “I drew on archaeological and ethnographic studies, oral traditions, and range ecology, as well as archival materials and field visits with scientists. I even chartered my own aerial survey of the Navajo reservation to get a landscape perspective.”

At the time this landscape was relatively near her professorship at New Mexico State University, but today Weisiger is delighted to call Eugene home. “During my graduate training, I dreamed of landing a job teaching U.S. western history at UO, but I never thought that dream could come true. Academics don’t generally get to choose where they live. When at last the opportunity arose, it was in large part the UO’s strong program in environmental studies that drew me here, along with the environmental ethos that pervades the university and the Willamette Valley.”

We are glad to have her! To learn more about Dr. Weisiger, please visit her website here.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

December 16, 2013

Featured Alumna: Sarah Jaquette Ray

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“I feel that teaching is the activist arm of my work. I am not an activist in the sense of social movement protest, but my research is always focused on the question of social justice.” A 2009 graduate of the University of Oregon’s doctoral program in Environmental Sciences, Studies and Policy, Sarah Jaquette Ray is enacting such activism this fall as she joins Humboldt State University’s faculty as Program Leader of their new Environmental Studies program.

Ray’s interests include environmental justice, cultural studies, critical human geography, disability studies, and issues of power, identity, and discourses ofnature. As she engages with each, she is passionate about putting the topics in conversation with each other: “I think it’s valuable to have a variety of activisms dealing with environmental issues,” she explains. “Some people may wonder why we need to be thinking about issues of identity, discourse, and social justice when the planet is at stake, and I hear that critique often.  But I think this rhetoric of urgency is problematic, and I genuinely believe that we’re not going to save that planet unless we do so in ways that incorporate—as central to, not just as a byproduct of—concerns of social justice.”

9780816511884_p0_v1_s260x420Such concerns were central to her recent book The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture, which examines modern American environmentalism for ways in which certain discourses of the body within activist culture can create social injustice. Furthermore, even in the classroom Ray is adamant that “issues of power, identity, and environmental rhetoric are central to whether or not students’ ideals will manifest and spread.”

For Ray, this is a key consideration. Her position with Humboldt’s Environmental Studies program requires heavy investment in advising, and she values the responsibility: “I see myself as a bridge between students and their careers in environmental fields, and that feels very gratifying. There is ample evidence that suggests if students follow their passions and get good advising about how to articulate their environmental studies skills, they will find work in a field that they are passionate about.” She believes that her role, even as an advisor, helps spread activism by fostering its growth and expression within her students.

Her role as bridge-builder extends to work within academia as well, particularly given her new position, in that she believes Environmental Studies depends on robust communication between departments. “There is a strong tradition of environmental science and resource management at HSU, but very little has been done to bridge that work with the work in the humanities and arts.” In this sense, she believes that her time at the University of Oregon prepared her well. “The [UO] program did a good job at promoting co-teaching and administering interdisciplinary structures despite being at a large institution.  The sense of community among staff, faculty, and students was very strong,”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

Featured Student: Collin Eaton

Collin Eaton has spent a lot of time thinking about houses. Particularly those built with traditional techniques: he has worked to restore historic adobe in San Francisco and to build adobe in Ecuador, and even when he looks back on early experience helping his father, who is also a builder, Collin remembers “it was often my responsibility to pick up trash on the job site, and as a result I also became suspicious from an early age of how much waste is generated by modern building systems.” Could traditional systems, he wondered, be a viable alternative?

In 2009 he moved to Guatemala and spent several years with Habitat for Humanity and FINCA, a microfinance foundation, seeking housing finance solutions for Guatemalans living in poverty. Such organizations typically fund structures built with cement blocks and steel reinforcement, and Collin became increasingly concerned over the fact that since such materials are tied to the global commodities market, prices have risen to the point where “organizations like Habitat are finding that the market they’re serving is not

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their target market.” Again, he began to think about traditional systems like adobe, and whether they might offer a desirable alternative: “I was wondering what’s happening to the people who can’t afford those [concrete] systems, and if there’s a way to find a more affordable system for them to access. Since energy and cost are related that would create housing with the added benefit of lower environmental impact.”

In many ways, it was this question that propelled him to Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon. Collin was looking for a program that would provide him the skills to more deliberately address building systems challenges, while also supporting his strong interest in an existing project. “One of the things that appealed to me about this program,” Collin explains, “was the flexible course plan, and that it seemed like there was the ability to focus on project.” As a current second-year student, Collin says that he’s pleased with how this balanced has worked for him.

He has also found that the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program has shifted his focus, from “this narrow view of wanting to do embodied energy and the life cycle assessment approach,” to one that incorporates sociological methods to help investigate why certain systems may or may not be utilized. “I’m equally invested in the perception side,” he expands. “In the end, you can show quantitatively that there will be lower environmental impact or lower cost, but the real question is whether people are interested.”

This interest, ultimately, is what Collin is examining with his project. He spent three months this summer in Guatemala conducting interviews, to “feel out how people felt about these traditional systems” Concrete block is certainly viewed as the superior material, so Collin wanted to know “whether if Habitat went for [traditional systems], would people be amenable or would they be insulted?” After 30 focus groups, 200 surveys, and eight interviews with housing organizations, Collin is optimistic. “There is definitely a preference for block, but I did find evidence of people adapting that technology, building concrete columns filled in with adobe because it’s cheaper and more comfortable in hot weather. That’s interesting.”

Moving forward, Collin will adapt his formal project into an executive summary which can be translated into Spanish and presented to housing organizations, as a resource for those interested in making a switch to traditional building systems. He also plans to return to Guatemala after graduation.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

July 17, 2013

Featured Faculty: Kari Norgaard

“The work that I do is motivated from a lifelong sense that things are not well with the earth and the people,” Kari Norgaard avers.

Although perhaps best known for her work on climate change denial, for a decade Norgaard has also been working with the Karuk Tribe, whose homelands are located in the northern part of what is now called California, to call attention to the devastating health effects of the loss of traditional food species such as Chinook Salmon, Pacific Lamprey, and freshwater mussels. Recently, she says, there’s been a surge of interest in traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) from the non-native community, in part because of growing concern about climate change among government agencies, environmental organizations, and the public.

“This could be a good thing for tribes or it could be a not good thing for tribes,” Norgaard says. On one hand, the newfound interest in tribal perspectives is encouraging in light of western science’s long history of disregarding traditional ways of knowing; on the other hand, though, many problems can arise when TEK is taken out of context and used without tribal consent.

With Norgaard’s support, “The Karuk are trying to figure out how to strategically use that interest while being able to maintain cultural sovereignty and knowledge sovereignty,” she says. The $36k grant that she wrote and received on behalf of the tribe this year will be used to explore ways the Karuk can retain traditional knowledge while expanding acceptance of their use of fire to manage ecosystems.

As an environmental sociologist who strives to “do interdisciplinary work, think differently, and change the conversation,” Norgaard, who has a B.S. in biology, says, “it’s really powerful to have a grounding in biology in a sense of knowing not only about biological information but also about how that scientific community thinks and understands things.”

Norgaard approaches her teaching as well as her research with an interdisciplinary drive to draw on knowledges from diverse sources. One of the things she most appreciates about the students at UO is that they “come from a lot of real-world lived experience” which, Norgaard says, “really enriches conversations” in the classroom.

Thanks to the existence of multiple programs and departments on the UO campus that include a focus on the environment—The Environmental Studies Program, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, and the Sociology Department, to name a few—Norgaard feels that there is a “critical mass of ideas in the community” surrounding environmental issues. She adds with a smile that she is also “very inspired” by the “phenomenal” students, faculty, and staff in the Environmental Studies Program.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

July 11, 2013

Featured Alumnus: Steve Mital

Serving as the UO’s Director of Sustainability and on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Advisory Council didn’t quite keep Steve Mital (who graduated from the Environmental Studies Master’s Program and founded the Environmental Leadership Program in 2001) busy enough.

Steve says that when he heard last year that a then-current Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) commissioner was not seeking re-election, his long-standing interest in local politics and his admiration for “the great work EWEB does in the community” led him to “give [running for public office] a try.” He adds, “Carpe diem.”

“EWEB runs a $300 million dollar annual operating budget and employs 500 people.   Commissioners review and approve electricity and water rates, set policies that shape the utility, and approve all major contracts.  We also review the general manager’s performance.” Steve explains.

While Steve admits that his new role’s “learning curve is steep,” one of his two major goals is informed by his long-term commitment to environmental sustainability: planning and preparing for climate change. Steve is heartened by the fact that “EWEB commissioners recently supported state-wide carbon tax legislation.”

In addition to thinking about environmental sustainability, Steve is also concerned about economic sustainability: his second major focus is to “develop policies and programs to better insulate low-income rate-payers from rate increases.”

When asked how his foray into local politics is going so far, Steve exclaims “Great!” He adds that he really enjoys working with the other commissioners, and “learning about energy contracts, demand management, lobbying in Salem, bond ratings, and FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] relicensing.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

May 15, 2013

Featured Student: Gabby McDaniel

Gabby McDaniel freely admits that before discovering the UO Environmental Studies Program,  “I never had a strong desire to come to Oregon because of its lack of racial diversity and abundance of rain.” However, the ENVS Graduate Program’s interdisciplinary nature, as well as its “generous financial support” won her over, and she’s glad they did.

“The rain is not as bad as I expected. There are plenty of sunny days to keep you happy. The rain is also more of a mist, so you can still continue most activities,” she laughs. More importantly, though, she says, “I have found stronger feminist, women-of-color and queer-people-of-color communities here than anywhere before. The program has a fierce female graduate student body.”

As soon as Gabby entered the program, she was connected with her interim advisor, Kari Norgaard, and with the other ENVS graduate students Kari advises. “This really helped me have a safe space and get connected to people who were consciously thinking about race, sexuality, and class, especially in relation to environmental issues.”

Being a part of this supportive community, along with attending presentations by some of the UO’s “amazing speakers,” gave Gabby the confidence to do what she was most passionate about for her Master’s project. “[After attending] a great talk put on through the African Studies Lecture Series about a woman who has spent her life researching in Tanzania and China, I decided that I needed to switch my project to something that allowed me to go back to Tanzania because that is where my heart was calling me.”

Gabby is now hard at work putting the finishing touches on an environmental education and leadership program on tourism, society, and the environment which she will spend five months this summer and fall implementing and evaluating at the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) in Tanzania’s Arusha Providence.

Gabby didn’t always know that she wanted to do environmental justice work. “I first became interested in environmental studies in my freshman year of college during a seminar class on energy. During that class I decided to change my major from biochemistry to environmental science, and then eventually to geology.” Later, when she took an environmental sociology course, Gabby realized that she wanted to focus more on the sociological aspects of environmental issues in graduate school.

“I felt that environmental issues are the biggest issues we have to address right now. I decided that my geology background could help me stay grounded in the science of climate change but that I really wanted to be more connected to working with people, especially low income communities and communities of color.”

The flexibility of the ENVS Graduate Program has allowed Gabby to incorporate her diverse interests into her research. “My focus on environmental justice really spans multiple disciplines: sociology, ethnic studies, women’s and gender studies, environmental studies, and education,” she says. What’s more, the Program’s option do a self-designed terminal project has given Gabby the opportunity to integrate some of her current passions into her graduate education: when asked what she wants to do after she graduates she says with a smile, “return to Tanzania and continue working on this environmental education program as well as on more community work with the UAACC.”

She continues: “Eventually, I would like to return to the States to help with the environmental education system here, making it more accessible and relevant to all communities; however I have no idea when or if that will ever happen!”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

December 11, 2012

Featured Faculty: David Sutherland

As David Sutherland sees it, although Coos Bay lacks the glaciers of far-off Greenland’s majestic fjords, the nearby Oregon inlet is just as fascinating. Although Sutherland, an MIT-trained oceanographer, has conducted much of his research in Greenland, when he joined the UO Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies Program faculties last September, he “wanted to work on something local and Oregon-centric.” Creating a computer model of the complex estuarine processes in Coos Bay fit the bill perfectly.

The Coos Bay modeling project is just getting underway. The first step is to gather data describing all of the physical variables that affect the dynamics of the estuary, including the seasonal amounts of water flowing out of Coos River, the area’s weather patterns, the tides, and the estuary’s bathymetry, or shape.

Not only are most of these variables constantly in flux, but they all influence each other, which makes creating a reliable model challenging, to say the least. In Coos Bay, Sutherland explains, “The river discharge is extremely seasonal, going from very wet during the winter storm season, to dry during the late summer and early fall. This change in river input has a drastic influence on the salt content of the estuary, and thus, on its currents, or circulation.” In turn, the circulation, which is also affected by the estuary’s bathymetry as well as by tides and winds, “can dictate the estuary’s salt and temperature distribution.”

To create a computer model of the complex interactions of all of these factors, Sutherland is drawing from tide gauges, meteorological observations, bathymetric charts, and weather models. To ensure that the model is accurate, he is also working with a graduate student who is collecting real-life observations in Coos Bay. “No model is complete without observations—you need to initialize it somehow and you need to validate it.”

Sutherland says of the modeling project, “This is not a pie-in-the-sky exercise, as the liquefied natural gas terminals being discussed for Coos Bay might require ships with a deeper draft, and thus, a deeper channel.” This could have environmental impacts that Sutherland’s model will be designed to help predict. “Changing the shape of the channel could alter the salt balance and circulation in the estuary,” which has the potential to drastically affect the habitats of aquatic species.

In addition to the Coos Bay project, Sutherland is also working on two projects on fjord circulation in Greenland, one funded by the National Science Foundation and the other by NASA. “It’s time-consuming planning for fieldwork in Greenland. But it’s extremely rewarding, both scientifically and from a traveling point of view. It’s a beautiful part of the world!” he says.

In the near future, Sutherland would also like to begin doing glacier-fjord system research in Alaska. “Ironically,” he says, “it is easier to obtain funding to work in Greenland than in Alaska even though the systems are very similar in terms of physical processes and travel to Alaska is much cheaper. The Greenland Ice Sheet is a bigger player in terms of potential sea level rise and is much less explored.”

When asked to reflect on his first year at the UO, during which he taught two large lecture courses in addition to conducting his new and ongoing research projects, Sutherland exclaims, “It’s been a whirlwind!” Of the environmental studies course he taught he says, “It was an amazing introduction to the Pacific Northwest environment and I learned a ton about the natural environs of the Willamette Valley through my interactions with the Environmental Studies Program.” He especially appreciated the opportunity to interact with his students outside of the classroom during the class’ Campus-Community Connections volunteering events.

Looking toward the future, Sutherland will be developing an advanced course in coastal oceanography, and hopes one day soon to teach a course on scientific writing or documentary filmmaking. “This is an area that we, as scientists, need practice in—communicating our results with the public. So we might as well start teaching it to our students too!”

In the long term, Sutherland dreams of using autonomous underwater vehicles called ocean gliders to further investigate Greenland’s fjords. “This would allow us to get data on water properties underneath ice where ships cannot go.” Sutherland also envisions developing “novel technologies for observing the ice-ocean interface in these glacier-fjord systems. Iceberg trackers, tagging marine mammals, etc. are all on the table!”

Most exciting, though, is that Sutherland and his wife, Kelly, who is also an oceanographer and UO professor, just became new parents: Marin Ashley Sutherland was born on November 27th. David jokes, “We’re hoping to raise a little salty Duck.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

October 25, 2012

Featured Student: Keats Conley

The summer before she came to the University of Oregon, Keats Conley, now an environmental studies Master’s student, read Ted Danson’s book, Oceana, which discusses the prediction that in less than one hundred years, the only seafood remaining in the oceans will be jellyfish. “I was so haunted by this idea that upon arriving in graduate school I sought out an advisor who specialized in ‘gelatinous macrozooplankton,’” she says wryly.

From that advisor, Dr. Kelly Sutherland, Keats learned about the “Trojan horse” hypothesis: the idea that jellyfish may be proliferating because, in their polyp stage, they prefer to attach to the now-abundant artificial materials of docks, aquaculture facilities, and offshore energy turbines. Working closely with Dr. Sutherland, Keats designed an experiment to look into the possibility that coastal development may influence the scale of jellyfish blooms in the Northern California Current.

Being an interdisciplinary thinker, however, Keats was just as interested in how jellyfish affect humans as in how human actions affect jellyfish, so she designed a survey to see if jellyfish blooms are currently impacting commercial fisherman in Oregon, Washington, and California. This summer, Keats began working on both her projects simultaneously at the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

When asked what her research involves on a day-to-day basis, Keats replies “A lot of weird things! The one consistency is a lot of repetition—but repetition of drastically different kinds of things.” Things like stuffing 1000 survey envelopes, gluing down 300 postage-stamp-sized samples of typical coastal development materials, and pipetting 5,000 jellyfish larvae (which look like “little yellow submarines”) into a petri dish. There are highlights, though: “Last week, I drove up to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and drove back down with a giant yellow trashcan of jellyfish in my backseat.”

Keats sees the interdisciplinarity of the Environmental Studies Program as one of its key strengths. “This program has afforded me the opportunity to work alongside my dream advisor and pursue research that I find genuinely exciting. I’ve had the flexibility to study marine biology against a natural resource management background that includes environmental economics and management of marine fishes,” she says.

After she finishes her thesis next spring, Keats plans to work with Dr. Sutherland at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories on San Juan Island. Eventually, she hopes to go on to study aquatic or bioresource science and possibly work in an aquaculture laboratory in Japan. Her long-term goal is to help “further the development of rural aquaculture, which has the potential to relieve strain on wild fish stocks worldwide.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

Featured Student: Jessica Rojas

“Environmental justice and social justice go hand in hand…we cannot have one without the other,” affirms Jessica Rojas, an environmental studies major and ethnic studies minor. Jessica’s various commitments on campus reflect this conviction that social and environmental issues are interrelated: she is currently serving as Diversity Coordinator for the ASUO Women’s Center, participates on the Multicultural Center Board, regularly volunteers with groups such as the Native American Student Union, and recently became part of the newly-formed Prison Justice Working Group.

Jessica brings an environmental perspective to all of her work as a social activist. In her capacity as the Women’s Center Diversity Coordinator, one of Jessica’s jobs is to organize events such as the Lylle B. Parker Speaker Series. “My intention is to highlight the intersection of gender, race and the environment by bringing to our campus a woman of color speaker who can put these issues into a working perspective, helping us [apply] the theories we learn about in class.”

Even as a member of the Prison Justice Working Group, Jessica offers an environmental critique: “People don’t realize that prison issues are environmental issues as prison incorporates the built environment, separates people from the natural environment and always involves people who usually either are products of their environment or soon will be once incarcerated.”

Jessica’s work with Salmon Corps in the 1990s was a formative experience that highlighted the connections between environmental degradation and social inequality for her. While teaching K-12 students in the Portland Public Schools about the cultural and ecological importance of salmon, as well as the threats to their continued existence, Jessica also learned that environmental activism is “something one can do in one’s own backyard.”

Being an environmental studies student at the University of Oregon has allowed Jessica to deepen her understanding of the complex causes of environmental issues. “[In the Environmental Studies Program] I have had opportunity to gain new insight on what is driving our desires and philosophies in doing the restoration we are pushing for. This has given me time to assess my past work and think intentionally about how the intersections of race, class and the environment work together.”

When she graduates this year, Jessica plans to return “to her watershed, like a salmon returning to spawn” in order to share the knowledge and experiences she’s gained at the UO. Ultimately, she says, “my dream is to [provide] environmental education to those who would be least likely to have access to it, such as the incarcerated and those involved in drug and alcohol treatment programs. I want to take what I have learned here and make it available and accessible, as I believe one shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to be a good steward of the environment.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

April 2, 2012

Featured Faculty: Matt Dennis, Bitty Roy & Josh Roering

ENVS faculty Bitty Roy, Josh Roering, and Matt Dennis – of biology, geology and history – believe that we have a responsibility to understand the nature and history of our own environment. Last spring, they launched a course to help students better understand Oregon: “Oregon Abroad: a physical, natural and cultural history.” They set up four interlocking courses to be taken simultaneously, and planned seventeen days of fieldwork throughout the state: in the Willamette Valley, the Coast Range mountains, the coast, and the Basin and Range.

Photo credit: Matt Dennis

“Bitty was the major inspiration,” Matt Dennis says, referring to her familiarity with the landscape of eastern Oregon. But another inspiration came from the humanities: Walden. Thoreau writes, “It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar… be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”  For Dennis, this meant “our new channels of inquiry would be in our home terrain – in Oregon – in some cases scrambling to construct new expertise that built on our research and teaching but often went well beyond it.”

There were challenges to teaching such a thoroughly interdisciplinary course. “As a historian I usually work inside – we’re an archive-based, bookish, relatively individualistic (non-collaborative) clan. It was a challenge to teach history outdoors, using landscapes and built environments as evidence and text, and to integrate historical knowledge with geological and biological observation and interpretation.”

But as the term went on, their academic training and the students’ enthusiasm transformed three disciplines into a cohesive learning community.

Josh Roering agrees. “I often found myself asking the biology or history students to educate me on something Bitty or Matt had said and this type of initially casual inquiry builds into more profound ideas over the course of a term. It’s really an organic process that begins with just hanging out together. In the university structure, we don’t have enough incentive to do this and we were delighted to have this opportunity.”

And how was the experience for the students? “One student, toward the end of the course, reflecting on all we had done lamented, ‘I can’t believe we have to go back to regular college.’  I think their regular college is better for their participation in Oregon Abroad.  My regular college certainly is,” Dennis reflects.

The team of professors hope to offer the course every other spring, but until it comes into rotation again, they will have to be satisfied with memories such as this, from Matt Dennis:

The class bonded in the slick mud of the Alvord Desert Playa in the midst of our Malheur trip. It was completely unexpected as a few students gingerly skated with bare feet out into the playa, covered by about half an inch of water for miles in every direction, atop a hard, flat layer of mud. Usually that expanse was dry, baked a grayish white color, but this year inordinate amounts of snow and rain had left it slathered in liquid.  Suddenly someone decided to run and slide, someone fell, someone decided to bellywhomp, and soon nearly everyone was slip-sliding across the playa, covered in mud, and filled with joy.  To say they were one with nature at that moment would not be an exaggeration.  Later the mud dried, coating bodies, hair, and clothes with a white layer of silt that adhered tenaciously, though it also spread to everything it touched, like the state vans.  Eventually everything was cleaned (days later playa dust could still be detected), but I still remember Ben’s pants, drying in the sun the next day, standing up on their own.

Photo credit: Matt Dennis

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

February 22, 2012

Featured Student: Maneesh Arora

Maneesh Arora, an Environmental Studies undergraduate student, was recommended by the University Administration and ASUO to sit on the Presidential Search Committee – and gladly accepted.

“Decisions made by this committee will play an integral role in shaping the University of Oregon for years to come,” Maneesh says. “It is very important to have an outstanding University President and I am excited to be part of the process to decide who our next President will be.”

“It is also very important to have strong student voice on the search committee,” he adds.  The controversial termination of former UO President Dr. Richard Lariviere  generated a great deal of community interest – students, staff, faculty and the wider Oregon audience are following the search committee process closely. It is a great decision, then, to call on the skills and strengths of leaders like Maneesh Arora.

Maneesh participated in the Environmental Leadership Program, after being selected for the 2011 Green Power team. “I taught third graders at Adams Elementary about renewable energy. Seeing the students develop while they began to truly understand the importance of renewable energy and our responsibility to protect our environment inspired me to want to be an educator after I graduate,” he writes.

His passion for education has already resulted in his appointment to the Presidential Search Committee, and his next steps promise to be even more influential and inspiring.

“My main goal for after I graduate, much like many other college graduates, is to make a positive impact on the world. Whether that is through being an educator or community organizer, it is important for me to always be pushing back against the many injustices present in the world,” he reflects. While Maneesh is right that many college graduates want to change the world for the better, the amount of time and dedication that he offers to the University of Oregon before graduating is truly impressive. When asked what other activities he participates in, he answers, “A few highlights are my former position as Vice President of the ASUO, Board Treasurer and Campaign Manager for OSPIRG, and member of the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT). I am currently a Student Ambassador and member of Students of the Indian Subcontinent (SIS).”

And now, he can add “a member of the Presidential Search Committee” to that highlights list. His commitment to education, and his insights as an ENVS undergraduate, will certainly help guide the UO towards a successful Presidential appointment and a strong future.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

December 1, 2011

Featured Faculty: Kathy Lynn

Kathy Lynn is an adjunct faculty researcher in the University of Oregon’s Environmental Studies Program, where she coordinates the Tribal Climate Change Project, a collaboration with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Detailing the importance of the project, Lynn explains, “For indigenous peoples, the environmental impacts of climate change and some of the proposed solutions threaten cultural survival and ways of life, including subsistence and financial resources.” This project builds an understanding of the needs, lessons learned, and opportunities American Indians and Alaska Natives have in planning for the physical effects of climate change. Findings from this research are intended to inform resource management decision-making.

“Our current research is focused on examining how climate change will impact tribal culture, sovereignty and resilience. Specifically, we seek to understand how tribal rights, including access to, use and management of resources on- and off-reservation will be affected by climate change,” Lynn says. And furthermore, “We are also developing profiles of tribes engaged in innovative efforts to address climate change through the development of adaptation plans, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and through collaboration with other tribal entities and public and private organizations,” Lynn points out.

From the profile on the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative.

Given the breadth and significance of the project, Lynn can’t do it alone. On her team are three student researchers: Carson Viles, an undergraduate student in the University of Oregon Environmental Studies Program and the Clark Honors College; Kirsten Vinyeta, a graduate student from the University of Oregon Environmental Studies Program; and Yochanan Zakai, a law student, situated in the University of Oregon School of Law.

Viles writes, “Working for the Tribal Climate Change Project has been a rare opportunity for me. My interest as an Environmental studies student is in indigenous advocacy, and this project allows me to narrow my focus while getting an inside view of what is going on in many native communities today. Also, I am getting the chance to see how professionals are collaborating and networking to solve complex problems in Native America. Helping with this project, I feel as if I am actually doing something meaningful!”

Lynn adds, “We are also examining the role of traditional knowledge in understanding climate change impacts and identifying culturally appropriate strategies to address climate change. Our hope is that this research will contribute to an understanding of these issues among policy makers, agencies and researchers, while also assisting tribes to plan for climate change and better engage with public agencies addressing climate change.”

Through this project, Lynn facilitates the Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Network, which includes over 75 individuals representing American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, intertribal organizations, public agencies and non-governmental organizations that work directly with tribes. She has also had the opportunity to contribute findings from the project to regional and national audiences, including the National Congress of American Indians, the National Climate Assessment and the Northwest Climate Science Center.

More information on the project can be found at: http://tribalclimate.uoregon.edu/

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

October 24, 2011

Featured Students: Megan Toth & Kelly Sky

ENVS Master’s student Megan Toth reports on her cooperative, interdisciplinary work in India.

“I am currently in Sirsi, Karnataka, India with my brilliant and wonderful colleague Kelly Sky. Together, we’re working to make a short film about a woman’s seed collective here called Vanastree (“women of the forest”) and to learn about broader issues facing the region. My master’s project will be a combination of this film and a write-up about Vanastree and an affiliate organization of theirs, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). Almost all of our filming will be done here in India, while the editing and writing will be done back home in Oregon.”

Kelly Sky is also an ENVS graduate student. Megan writes, “Working with another graduate student is fantastic. We’re able to bounce ideas off each other, take more risks, and think more creatively as a pair. Parsing out our solo work is tricky since we’re spending most of our time together, but it works out since there’s so much material to cover. We can work on the film together, but divide and conquer other questions. The whole experience has made me very passionate about collaborative work. Collaboration breeds creativity and action, and I think universities are in an especially unique position to bring people together and form solution-oriented communities.”

Megan and Kelly may be taking a different tack for their master’s degrees than the traditional thesis, but they aren’t alone — several ENVS graduate students are pursuing terminal projects. “I love that this program has allowed me to follow my dreams as they emerge, and to come to India… and to make a film! I’ve been able do something creative and different from what I ever imagined was possible,” Megan says. While it can be a challenge to design and complete a meaningful, manageable project, Megan and Kelly are experiencing great success and support from Vanastree and the local community.

On her time in India, Toth reflects, “In the rural areas, life is a little slower. There’s a greater reliance on farming and gardening for food, which is part of what we’re filming. The tropical forest, where Kelly and I are staying, is hot, green, lush, buggy, and alive. And both of us have gotten leech bites from the army of leeches that come after the monsoons, so we’re looking forward to the change of seasons,” she laughs.  “The forest is incredibly beautiful, especially with the peaceful rice paddies that dapple the countryside.”

However, the leeches aren’t the lasting impression Toth will take from her time in India. “The people here are fantastic. So many smiles, waves, and conversations in English and broken bits of Kannada (the state language of Karnataka). Many people have even invited us home for meals!”

Megan and Kelly plan to have their film wrapped up by the end of 2012. In the meantime, still photos can be seen at their shared flickr account.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

June 4, 2011

Featured Students: Kory Northrup & Briana Orr

ENVS master’s student Kory Northrop and Environmental Studies undergraduate Briana Orr are making a difference in bicycle advocacy, education and planning. This year, their efforts have helped bring bicycle transportation issues into focus at a local and national scale.

Largely due to Briana Orr’s efforts, the University of Oregon received a Silver-level Bike Friendly University award from the League of American Bicyclists. UO was one of 20 universities across the country to be recognized, with Stanford University taking the only platinum-level award.  The Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) program recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bicycle-friendly campus for students, staff and visitors. Briana, along with UO Bike Program coordinator Ted Sweeney, researched and wrote the application.

Briana also wrote and received a 17k grant from the Associated Students of University of Oregon for bicycle infrastructure improvements identified in the 1991 Campus Bike Plan.  Briana’s proposal will create a premier bicycling network on campus.  The grant will help install bicycle path signage and safety pavement markings for cyclists, and the UO Bike Program will perform outreach and education around the new bicycle infrastructure features.

“When I think about making a street comfortable and enjoyable for people, I instantaneously begin to imagine all of the conversations and interactions that will take place,” says Briana. “Designing the framework for interactions is what gets me excited about transportation.”

Kory Northrop agrees.  “To me, and many advocates in the field, a true bicycle-friendly city is one in which a family with small children could safely and comfortably traverse the streets to accomplish all of the tasks required to live their lives whether it’s getting groceries, going to school, seeing a film, or just taking a joyride,” says Kory.

Kory is passionate about data visualization and about bicycle transportation. This year, he created a map graphic that has appeared in local and national bicycle media, including the League of American Bicyclists and We Bike Eugene websites.  Bicycle Commuting Trends in the United States creates a tool for bicycle advocates that is both clean and informative.  It pulls together data in a visual format, painting a different picture than would be gained by looking at individual data sets.

Kory hopes that tools like this one will help inform the people who are making decisions about bicycle transportation.  “I think that we need to be reaching out to the public and the decision makers at the same time,” he says.  “It’s important for both of these groups to know about the benefits of bicycling. It’s important for us, as a country, to start getting serious about bicycling as a legitimate mode of transportation. If we want to move away from automobiles and our oil dependency, making big investments in bicycle infrastructure is lucrative and efficient.”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.

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