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Featured Student: Julia Ridgeway

«I came to the UO unsure of exactly what I wanted to do for my Master’s thesis, but I knew that with the flexibility and interdisciplinarity of the Environmental Studies Program that I would be free to explore.»

When Julia Ridgeway came to the Environmental Studies Program in 2009, it didn’t take long for her to find a unique research niche that fit her interests. Julia joined a research group in the Anthropology Department that conducts research in the Ecuadorian Amazon every summer.

For her master’s thesis, Julia will be working with an indigenous federation as they undergo the process of westernization. «Topics as complex as westernization and indigenous cultural transition are something that can only be approached from an interdisciplinary and nuanced perspective, and the people at the Environmental Studies Program understand and support that sort of cross-pollination,» says Julia.

This summer Julia will spend two months in the Ecuadorian Amazon working with the Shuar Health and Life History project. The project is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international collaboration between researchers in the United States, Ecuador and leaders of the indigenous Shuar Federation. The Shuar are in the process of transitioning from a traditional hunter-gatherer economy to a more westernized market, and the UO research group is studying the effects of that transition on their culture and health.

Julia’s focus will be on the effect of these changes on women’s health, specifically on their fertility and reproductive choices. I will be taking blood samples for hormone analysis and also conducting surveys to find out how westernization impacts the choices women make about their bodies and their families.

«I have always been very interested in the various biological and cultural factors that affect women’s health and choices,» says Julia, «And I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about those topics first hand.»

After finishing her master’s degree in 2011, Julia hopes to continue teaching and conducting research at the university level. She plans to continue focusing on the intersection of environmental and economic change, women’s health, and Latin America. What did you do between undergrad and grad school?

Julia’s research in Ecuador is funded through the Barker Foundation and by the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies at the University of Oregon.

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