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Supporting Student Projects Focused on Sustainability

The Albert, Norma and Howard Geller ’77 Endowed Research Awards support student-initiated research projects that advance our understanding of natural resource and environmental sustainability and develop practical improvements that can move society toward more sustainable outcomes.

Clark University undergraduate and graduate students are eligible, and are reviewed in separate competitions.

Given the intent of the Geller Awards, proposals are evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Relevance to practical approaches of advancing sustainability
  • Originality and innovation
  • Clarity and feasibility of research plan
  • Ways in which the project will contribute to linking knowledge to action
  • Potential for the award to enable a project that may not be possible without it
  • Evidence of meaningful interactions with a faculty mentor for the project and/or linkages to ongoing research (but not at the expense of originality and independence)
  • Cost-effectiveness (i.e., whether the budget is reasonable)
  • A scope of work commensurate with the academic standing of the student (i.e., we expect that applications from graduate students will reflect a greater degree of academic experience and professionalism, compared to applications from undergraduate students).

An interdepartmental faculty committee that shares Howard Geller’s interests in student research and activism for sustainability will select successful proposals. Subject to the number and quality of applications received, it is the intention of the committee to award one-half of both regular and small awards to undergraduate projects. We anticipate making approximately 3-4 regular awards in amounts ranging from $1,001 to $2,500, and several smaller grants, up to $1,000, each year. Requests for more than $2,500 will not be considered.

2024 Award Competition

The 2024 award competition is now closed.  Click here for more details.

2024 Geller Award Recipients

Arman_BajracharyaProject: Land Use Land Cover Modification as Disaster Response in Sindhupalchok District: Understanding Adaptive Pathways for Double Exposure in Nepalese Communities
Faculty Mentor: Rinku Roy Chowdhury

Mountainous regions worldwide face intense biophysical hazards like landslides and floods due to their geographical location. The escalating impacts of climate change leading to extreme temperatures and altered precipitation patterns have compounded stresses on mountain communities. Meanwhile, these communities have encountered new trade and development opportunities due to economic globalization. However, this socially and geographically uneven economic integration has simultaneously increased the vulnerability of community members due to dependence on external markets. Cumulatively, the overlapping exposures of climate change and economic globalization unevenly affects marginalized communities. Combining GIS and remote sensing analysis with interviews and focus group discussions, this study examines livelihood and land use modifications as adaptive pathways for communities in Nepal’s Hindukush Himalayas, where communities are doubly exposed to climate change and economic globalization.

SergioProject: Understanding REDD+ Beyond a Carbon-Centric Approach: Sustainable Agriculture and the Transformation of Indigenous, Peasant and Black Communities in Colombia
Faculty Mentor: Gustavo Oliveira

In recent years, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative has received a lot of attention because of its potential to attract large-scale investment in the protection of forests and in the promotion of agriculture in a sustainable way. Although a growing set of scholarly literature has inquired about the social and environmental impacts of the carbon markets that REDD+ fosters, much less attention has been paid to the way in which these projects are reconfiguring agriculture through the promise of sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, and silviculture. This project explores how the implementation of these projects are transforming the ways in which value is produced in the economy, and how those changes are impacting forest-based communities in Colombia. Through surveys and in-depth interviews, this research examines the transformation in labor relations and productive activities that peasant, Afro-Colombian, and indigenous communities are experiencing due to REDD+ projects, ultimately providing important input to policymakers, project developers, and environmental activists.

Sophia HayesProject: Flood Patterns and Extractivist Geographies on Indigenous Lands in Northern Wisconsin: An Integrated Approach
Faculty Mentor: John Rogan

Indigenous lands are disproportionately impacted by the risks associated with fossil fuel infrastructure compared to non-native land. The crossing of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 liquid petroleum pipeline across the Bad River Reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin exemplifies the multifaceted risks pipeline infrastructure poses to Indigenous communities, with land itself being an integral part of these communities. The paramount concern of this study is the risks associated with a potential rupture of Line 5 within or near the Bad River Reservation. Understanding these potential risks requires a comprehensive analysis of the ecological, economic, and socio-cultural function of the Bad River Reservation as an extension of the political identity of the Bad River Band. This project seeks to investigate the threats to environmental and hydrologic stability that Line 5 imposes on the Bad River Band and how these threats are perceived by community members. Findings from this research will contribute to informed local decision-making and legislative resistance to Line 5.

Maddy KrootProject: Contesting Energy Transitions: Understanding Community Opposition to High-Voltage Transmission Lines in Northern New England
Faculty Mentor: James McCarthy

While energy transition is often imagined in terms of new energy sources, transition also requires new transmission lines to bring new sources of electricity to existing sites of consumption. However, transmission lines have increasingly become the objects of contestation, delaying or halting plans for decarbonization. In contrast with increasing attention to pipelines and the growing centrality of high-voltage power lines to energy transitions, power lines and their contestation have been understudied. This project explores local opposition to two proposed transmission lines in northern New England, the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire and the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) in Maine, both of which intend to transmit Quebecois hydroelectricity to Massachusetts and neither of which have been built amidst intense local resistance. This project uses semi-structured interviews, document analysis, and participant observation to understand how power lines emerge as objects of contestation, examine divergent understandings of their prospective impacts, and trace the ways and scales at which stakeholders mobilize competing justice claims.

Al Rauf MahamaProject: Urban Greening, Waste Reduction and Community Well-Being: A Case Study in the Upper West Ghana for Sustainable Urban Development
Faculty Mentor: Eman Lasheen

Urbanization often leads to waste disposal challenges, with dump sites scattered across urban areas. These sites contribute to increases in local air temperature, releases of particulate matter, and emissions of greenhouse gases, all of which can impact human health. Urban greening—the process of including natural elements like vegetation via parks, gardens, and other green spaces—can address these challenges. This project uses the Upper West region of Ghana as a case study to explores the complicated relationship between urban green spaces, community well-being, and environmental sustainability. Specifically, the research will map waste disposal sites, measure local air temperature and quality at these sites, and interview residents about waste management and urban greening. Results will be provided to local stakeholders for use in future urban planning initiatives.

Walter PoulsenProject: Expert Knowledge and Discourses for Solar Photovoltaic Policy and Development: Ethnographic Fieldwork at Two Industry Conferences
Faculty Mentor: Gustavo Oliveira

Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy generation is emerging as a key technology for climate mitigation. Solar PV development is accelerating across the U.S. and is driving a significant restructuring of the political economy of energy. As this development has spread so have calls for a just transition. A just and equitable outcome is by no means ensured, as studies on green extractivism and land grabbing have demonstrated. To achieve just energy transitions, it is imperative that we understand the processes by which policies are produced. To better understand the current state and planned futures of solar energy development and policy, this project will conduct ethnographic research (semi-structured interviews and participant observation) with industry practitioners and policymakers at two industry conferences. This research will extend understandings of the actors and discourses involved at the development and planning level of the solar PV assemblage.

Prasanth Prakash Prabhu
Hibbett Lab group photo

Project: Investigating the Genetic Underpinnings of Nitrogen Pollution Induced Trophic Transition in Wood-Decaying Mushroom Hohenbuehelia Mastrucata
Faculty Mentor: David Hibbett

Fungi are the primary wood decomposers in forest ecosystems. The rate of decomposition is often limited by the amount of nitrogen available in the environment, thus altering the carbon cycle. Human-derived nitrogen pollution causes changes in the global nitrogen cycle as well as the community structure in ecosystems. Nitrogen pollution also results in lowering the rate of decomposition as well as changing the functional biology of organisms including fungi. Wood-decaying fungi have developed several mechanisms to overcome nitrogen limitation. One such strategy is to use alternative sources of nitrogen including microscopic invertebrates such as nematodes. The goal of this research is to identify the genetic basis of the influence of different nitrogen sources on nematode-trapping fungi. These results will provide insight into alterations in the rate of decomposition of organic matter influenced by an external nitrogen source and ultimately inform carbon cycle models that incorporate fungus-mediated decay.

Jewon RyuProject: Unraveling the Impact of New Technology on Society: Challenges in Adopting EVs in Jeju Island, South Korea
Faculty Mentor: Deborah Martin

Jeju Special Self-Governing Province (Jeju), an island lying in the south of the Korean Peninsula, is the only self-governing province in South Korea. In 2012, Jeju introduced the Carbon-Free Island (CFI) Jeju Plan, a comprehensive effort to transition the island to a carbon-free environment. One long-term goal of the CFI plan was to cease new registrations for internal combustion engine vehicles after 2030, with the intention of replacing 75% of these vehicles with EVs. Despite extensive government endeavors (e.g., subsidies) to encourage the adoption of EVs, the number of registered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in Jeju increased. Using a combination of archival research, in-depth interviews, and GIS analysis, this project applies socio-technical transitions theory to examine technology transitions from multiple perspectives, focusing on how various actors implement public environmental policies, understand the societal effects of new technology, and contribute to global discussions on carbon neutrality.

2023 Geller Award Recipients

Oluwole Olakunle AjayiProject: Gender Equality: The Pathway to Food Systems Security, Economic Sustainability, and Ecological Preservation
Faculty Mentor: Jude Fernando

A gender approach to food security can enable shifts in gender power relations and assure that all people, regardless of gender, benefit from, and are empowered by development policies and practices to improve food security. Women are involved in a variety of agricultural operations including crop and livestock production, and fish farming. At the community level, women undertake a range of activities that support natural resource management and agricultural development, such as soil and water conservation, afforestation and crop domestication. In 2017, the United States had 1.2 million female producers, accounting for 36 percent of the country’s 3.4 million producers. These women-operated farms accounted for 38 percent of U.S. agriculture sales and 43 percent of U.S. farmland. To achieve food sustainability in the United States, the role of women is essential. Through a combination of in-person interviews and survey questionnaires, this research project will focus on women owned farms in the states of New York, Massachusetts and Maine to improve our understanding of how these farms contribute to sustainable food security, economic interdependence, and climate change mitigation.

Josaphat Barcenas-ArguetaProject: Green Economy: Its Role in Lithium Extraction and Climate Change
Faculty Mentor: Denise Humphreys Bebbington

This dilemma of pursuing extractive industry for economic growth and limiting it for sustainability has sparked many conversations and debates about current development strategies and their effects on our environment. The UN Environment Programme and other world actors have introduced “the green economy” to tackle this issue, relying on solutions such as green technologies, renewable energy, and better resource and energy efficiency to foster economic growth while reducing poverty and environmental degradation. However, these technologies are not entirely “green” as they are reliant on and create new demand for precious metals such as lithium, which has led to increased extractive activity in Latin America, especially in the lithium triangle between Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. Using semi-structured interviews and participant observations of stakeholders, this research project will analyze the debates around lithium mining in Chile and the emerging socio-environmental conflicts in the local communities surrounding mining activities.

Abby BeilmanProject: Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Matter in the Blackstone River Watershed: Winter to Spring Transitions
Faculty Mentors: Tim Downs and Karen Frey

Chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) is the optical/viewable fraction of dissolved organic matter and can be used as a proxy for organic matter quantity and quality. Depending upon environmental conditions, CDOM can degrade to atmospheric CO2, contributing to the production of a greenhouse gas that is an important component of ongoing climate change. This research project will investigate the Winter-Spring changes in CDOM in the Blackstone River Watershed (BRW), which when paired with prior work in the same watershed, will provide a complete picture of the watershed’s key seasonal transitions. Combining information on climate change potential and quality of organic matter, while also aggregating the quantitative aspects of existing pollution data, this field-based project could provide policy pathways for the watershed and allow for a better understanding of its future potential. Increasing the health of the BRW facilitates its roles as a recreational resource for local communities, as well as wildlife habitat for various species.

Andrea Cabrera Roa (Geller Awardee)Project: Present Absences: In the Making of the Sovereign Territoriality through Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and in Initial Contact in the Peruvian Amazon
Faculty Mentors: Anthony Bebbington and Yuko Aoyama

The proposed project explores how the indigenous categories of ‘isolation’ and ‘initial contact’ affect the ways in which the biopolitical power of the State and its forms of government over sovereign territoriality have been traditionally assumed. The project takes into consideration specific legal frameworks targeting the State’s responsibility towards protecting the conditions of ‘isolation’ and ‘initial contact’ of certain Amazonian indigenous groups, while at the same time establishing the possibility of developing economic activities (e.g., natural resource extraction) under the figure of ‘national interest’ within and proximate to the Reserves designated for the protection of these groups. Using participant observation and semi-structured interviews with key informants, this research takes as a case study, the ‘Territorial Reserve Kugapakori, Nahua, Nanti and Others,’ and its surrounding communities, located in the Peruvian Amazon as an emblematic case of the ongoing debates among the Peruvian government, indigenous organizations and civil society associations regarding the status of these indigenous peoples’ collective rights to self-determination to remain in ‘isolation’ and/or to decide their own pace in initiating processes of ‘contact’ with the rest of society.

Pilar Delpino MarimonProject: Unbuilt Infrastructure Projects and The Use of Space in The Peruvian-Brazilian Border
Faculty Mentor: Anthony Bebbington

Infrastructure projects not only have impacts when they are built and operational, they also generate impacts in their unbuilt phase. This research project examines the effects unbuilt infrastructures have on how actors plan to use space in Western Amazonia, using the unbuilt Pucallpa, Peru – Cruzeiro do Sul, Brazil transboundary corridor as a case study. This research has two objectives: 1) to make explicit the relationship between unbuilt infrastructures and the erasure and rewriting of political claims to space, and 2) to make visible the effects of the unbuilt infrastructure on the landscape. Based on archival work that follows the social life of the unbuilt corridor in combination with semi-structured interviews with key informants and visualization methods, the research will answer the following question: How does the recurrent proposal of a transboundary corridor shape ways in which state and non-state actors plan space for: a) investment, b) protection of livelihoods, and c) regulation of natural resources?

Amanda Dye (Geller awardee)Project: Transforming Waste Systems: An Exploration into How Urban Fungi Farming Can Reduce Waste, Address Food Insecurity in Low-Income Communities, and Provide Practical Agricultural Education
Faculty Mentor: David Hibbett

Food deserts occur when factors such as income, access to a personal vehicle or public transportation, racial demographics, and area designation (rural, suburban and urban) intersect and create barriers for residents to access food close to where they reside. Food deserts can amplify the effects of food insecurity, including adverse health effects due to diets that lack nutrition or contain too many refined. The Worcester Advisory Food Council found that the prevalence of hunger in Worcester is six times greater than the Massachusetts average and that one in three children in low-income neighborhoods live in a household that is facing food insecurity. Growing mushrooms in community gardens is one potential way to increase access to produce used in a variety of Asian and African cuisines. Fungi are prolific if produced under the right conditions and surplus production could be sold on site by local resident gardeners to the local community, restaurants or grocery stores. The project will: (1) develop a method for converting cardboard waste from 850 affordable housing units into substrate for growing edible mushrooms, (2) revitalize a nearby community garden space for successful food production, and (3) provide educational and agricultural opportunities for local gardeners.

2022 Geller Award Recipients

CruiceProject: The Globalization of Offshore Wind Energy: Green Skills, Workers Competition, and Transnational Organization
Faculty Mentor: James McCarthy

Recent approval for the construction of the United States’ first large-scale offshore wind project offers strong indications that the US will become a major investment location for the increasingly global offshore wind industry. It remains to be seen, however, whether the anticipated growth of offshore wind in the US will translate into an employment boom of equal magnitude and what such growth might mean in terms of a ‘just transition’ for workers in the US energy industry. This research addresses these problems by examining the uneven development of the (offshore) wind energy industry across North America and Western Europe. More specifically, it focuses on the fragmentation of the offshore wind labor process between intellectual and manual labor and the geographical expression of this fragmentation. It does so in order to understand the skills needed to advance the renewable energy transition and the manner in which workers have acquired and continue to acquire these skills. The research also focuses on the efforts of workers to avoid competing with one another at the expense of working conditions and environmental outcomes. Funds from the Geller Award will be used to conduct in-depth interviews with representatives of firms, industry associations, educational institutions, research organizations, and trade unions, all key actors in the wind energy global production network.

ChristinaProject: Can Mushrooms Help Save the Bees?
Faculty Mentor: David Hibbett

Bees are essential for creating sustainable and biologically diverse ecosystems. They ensure the survival and reproduction of the majority of Angiosperm plants, making them critical species that the majority of organisms in an ecosystem depend upon. Bees also contribute greatly to the sustainability of the human food system, since 35% of global food production is reliant on the pollination of crops, which is largely conducted by migratory honey bee hives. Beekeepers have been experiencing increasing declines in their bee populations as environmental conditions have reduced bees’ ability to cope with hive pathogens. Finding a solution to improve bees’ immunity is fundamental to restoring global ecosystems and food systems, so it has become increasingly important to find sustainable treatments for bee pathogens. Recent research has begun exploring the medicinal properties of fungi to help reduce viral levels in bees. My research will contribute to the ongoing efforts to develop effective treatments for bee pathogens. I will investigate the effects of oak extractives and the fungal extracts of Fomes fomentarius and Ganoderma applanatum grown on oak wood on the reduction of Deformed Wing Virus levels in honey bees. Funds from the Geller Award will be used for quantitative PCR (qPCR) reagents and other routine laboratory supplies.

2021 Geller Award Recipients

Julia DowlingProject: A Mixed Methods Ethnography of Cooperative Projects in Uneven Urban Development in Worcester, MA
Faculty Mentor: Asha Best

Worcester, MA, in facing pressures to continue to be a competitive and economically ‘developed’ city, has invested in its downtown including the construction of a new baseball stadium and the strategic reconstruction of streetways. However, this gentrification process is simultaneously closing in on spaces youth can occupy without pressure to spend money (e.g., the demolition of a popular youth-oriented skate park). The city government’s goals do not align with the needs of many community members, especially those who are economically marginalized. This displacement and fragmentation of space has prompted a response by grassroots organizations such as Save the Bridge, a collective and vision for a trade-school and shelter in an old mill building, and Mutual Aid Worcester, which provides funds and food to individuals and families in immediate crisis. This project uses experimental mixed-methods to create a well-rounded understanding of these organizations’ work, from both the organizers’ and the beneficiaries’ perspectives. This research will shed light on the unquantifiable value of such organizations, and on the lived realities of residents coping with urban change in Worcester, MA.

Marc HealyProject: Evaluating urban tree management strategies and municipal structure to identify the effects of recent plantings on municipal stewardship
Faculty Mentor: John Rogan

Urban forests are directly impacted through numerous actors ranging from tree nurseries, forestry or public works departments, non-profits, and local residents. These stakeholders can create a complex web of governance around the planting and care of urban trees. Characterizing the level of management and resources used for urban forestry can help explain the impacts and benefits on municipal government. This project will analyze how the maintenance and care of trees by 14 Massachusetts municipalities was affected by a state-led tree planting program. This research seeks to understand in what ways municipal forestry departments react to non-municipal led tree planting and how it affects their level of management and care. Data will be collected through semi-structured, open-ended interviews with tree wardens or associated persons at each city and compared to national averages. Qualitative themes will be analyzed to understand tree care changes pre- and post-planting, as well as impacts on municipal governance, resulting from the planting program. This research can offer insights for other cities that have external planting programs and provide guidance on how management practices can be used within this context.

2020 Geller Award Recipients

Project: Individual-Based Process Model of Forest Regeneration
Faculty Mentor: Dominik Kulakowski

Corcoran Adams

Climate change has increased the occurrence of wildfire across western landscapes, partially as a result of drought. In recent years, wildfire activity has increased in severity and frequency, raising concern among scientists and land managers about the long-term resilience of western forests. Much of the concern has centered on burned landscapes that may be exhibiting a lower resilience to fire. Post-fire climate is inhibiting post-fire regeneration and leading to an ecosystem conversion from forest to grass-like landscapes. As temperatures continue to warm globally, climate may become the dominate variable limiting forest regeneration. Identifying the effects of climate change on western United States forest ecosystems is key to understanding present and future landscape compositions, species distributions, and disturbance regimes in that region. This study will use an individual-based process model parameterized with extensive field data to characterize the interactions among climate change, altered disturbance regimes, post-disturbance regeneration, and forest resilience in the Rocky Mountains.

Project: Exploring the Sustainability and Climate-Change Resilience of Water Supply and Wastewater Sanitation in the Mexico City Region
Faculty Mentors: Timothy Downs, Karen Frey, and Morgan Ruelle

Ravi HanumanthaWater is essential for life. Rapidly growing cities are struggling to meet the water demands of increasing urban populations and places under climate-change scenarios are likely to experience increasing stress on water resources. The World Bank has specifically identified and designated megacities as global risk centers. In one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the world, over 24M people in Mexico City and the surrounding region face: a) chronic scarcity of clean water due to more prolonged dry seasons; b) lack of wastewater sanitation in many neighborhoods; and c) deteriorating water distribution and wastewater drainage infrastructure. The region is facing high chronic water stress compared to other regions in Mexico and climate change amplifies these threats. This study will gather field data to parameterize a water system simulation model to answer the following research question: What is the climate-change vulnerability of the existing water supply and wastewater sanitation systems in the Mexico City Region, and how can their resilience be improved?

Project: Exploring the Use of a Low-Cost Photopaper Tool for Citizen Science Detection of Urban Gas Leaks
Faculty Mentor: John Rogan

lerman SinkoffUrban gas leaks undermine progress towards climate change mitigation and cost American consumers billions of dollars each year. However, the sensors available to detect gas leaks are both too costly and too inaccessible to be used regularly by grassroots climate justice activists. Previous research suggests that a low-cost photopaper tool developed to help communities living alongside oil and gas wells document hydrogen sulfide pollution could also respond to the sulfur compounds present in commercial natural gas. This study will explore both the scientific and social dimensions of using the photopaper tool in this setting. We will first investigate whether the photopaper’s silver halide gel will corrode and discolor when exposed to natural gas in a laboratory glove box experiment as well as in field locations with varying amounts of traffic. Second, using a Community-Based Participatory Research Design, we will engage with a community partner—training citizen scientists—to gather secondary methane and air quality monitoring data in vulnerable urban neighborhoods. Finally, we will evaluate the social learning and advocacy benefits of participating in grassroots gas leak detection. Click here to see a news story about Sarah’s work.

Project: Characterizing Change in Initial Post-Fire Regeneration in the Rocky Mountains
Faculty Mentor: Dominik Kulakowski

Disturbances such as wildfires at wildland-urban interfaces (DWUI) pose a risk to human safety and in some regions may increase the potential of secondary disturbances. Increasing temperatures will continue to lead to earlier-onset spring, longer dry seasons, and more severe droughts in the Western United States. Resulting moisture deficits amplified by climate change result in less resilient forests as exemplified by lower seedling densities and, in some cases, regeneration failure following climatically-driven disturbances. Post-disturbance regeneration is influenced by disturbance type, pre-disturbance forest stand structure and composition, and post-disturbance climate, though this latter influence is not yet well understood. The Rocky Mountains provide an ideal location for study of these dynamics, in part because the region’s rapid climate change acts as an early indicator for future dynamics in other temperate forested ecosystems. This study will collect and analyze extensive field data at 21 Rocky Mountain sites to assess how climate has influenced initial density, age and size structure, and rate of post-fire regeneration.

2019 Geller Award Recipients

Project: Networked Community Economies as Alternatives to Extractivism in Honduras
Faculty Mentor: Anthony Bebbington

Benjamin FashIn the last decade, the Honduran state has sought to expand its extractive sectors in a context of heavy militarization with little accountability for the human rights of those who oppose it. This research will investigate experiments underway within the country to enact alternatives to its economic model centered on the large-scale extraction of resources for export (or extractivism’). The project is expected to generate insights into strategies for what scholar-activists have called ‘post-extractivism’, a future-oriented paradigm in which extraction is limited to that which is indispensable for ‘good living’ and which suggests a transition from individualistic consumerism toward more sustainable, communal societies. By joining a community-based learning process with a local environmentalist coalition, this project will use film to investigate and showcase the forms the post-extractivist agenda has taken in Honduras. Specifically, the project will produce three high-quality short documentary films, focused on experiments in places with different cultural identities, governance structures, and relationships to resource extraction projects, highlighting how and why these projects have emerged, grown, and distributed benefits.

Project: Feedbacks Among Climatically-driven Disturbance Regimes in the Swiss Alps
Faculty Mentor: Dominik Kulakowski

Jaclyn GuzAcross the world there have been increases in ecological disturbances (e.g. wildfires, avalanches, and mudslides) at wildland-urban interfaces (DWUI), often posing risks to human safety. Current models do not adequately forecast future DWUI in the context of changing climate conditions. Increasing temperatures will continue to lead to earlier-onset spring, longer dry seasons, and more severe droughts in the Western United States and Europe. Resulting moisture deficits amplified by climate change result in less resilient forests as exemplified by lower seedling densities and, in some cases, regeneration failure. Research is required on the degree to which climate change is affecting post-disturbance regeneration and how change in regeneration may in turn influence subsequent disturbance regimes. The Swiss Alps provide a unique location for the study of these trends as the region experiences climate change at twice the rate of the continental U.S. and can act as an early indicator biome for future disturbances in other temperate mountain forested ecosystems. Using rich historical datasets documenting DWUI and forest management in the Swiss Alps, this project will develop predictive models to understand how climate change will impact DWUI in other parts of Europe and in the Western U.S.

Project: Experimenting with Urban Sustainability Governance: EcoDistrict Planning in the Pittsburgh Metro Region
Faculty Mentors: Deborah Martin and James Murphy

Sarah SanGiovanniAs cities are increasingly faced with new sustainability challenges, they are also tasked with the need to develop new modes of urban governance to achieve their desired futures. Accordingly, urban actors are increasingly developing and testing new governance practices through “urban governance experiments.” These experiments are neighborhood-based trials of new governance practices that are intended to be “scaled up” to larger urban areas. However, a gap in knowledge exists on how urban governance experiments develop in relation to the places in which they are sited, and through what means and for what reasons they are then able to scale to new areas. This research seeks to fill this gap in knowledge through investigating a specific urban governance experiment–EcoDistricts planning–in the Pittsburgh metro region. EcoDistricts planning is a mode of urban governance in which several small-scale “ecodistricts” are formed to develop sustainability best practices that can then be scaled up to the city-wide scale. Specifically, this project will investigate how EcoDistricts planning is developing in the Millvale EcoDistrict, how it is scaling up to a new regional-scale TriBoro EcoDistrict, and what factors have enabled and challenged these processes.

Project: Greening Energy: The Politics of Solar Power in Senegal
Faculty Mentor: James McCarthy

Mara van den Bold Over the past decade, Senegal has actively promoted the development of its renewable energy sector to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and alleviate energy shortages. Following the adoption of the Renewable Energy Orientation law in 2010, the government has developed a policy and institutional framework aimed at attracting private investment for the development of large-scale renewable energy facilities with a key focus on solar energy. While the commitment by the government to developing renewable energy is admirable, it is important that such developments not perpetuate existing inequalities in the country. Large-scale solar projects require a significant amount of space and hence are usually constructed in rural areas. However, such projects can result in local communities losing access to land and resources they depend on for their livelihoods. Thus far, research on renewable energy in Senegal has focused on the technical potential of developing renewable energy generation capacity, without examining, in-depth, how rural lands and relations are transformed in the process, what such transformations mean for resource access and control, or how local populations are affected by these types of projects. This research responds to this gap in knowledge by examining the drivers of large-scale solar power in Senegal and its implications for rural livelihoods.

Project: Characterizing Bark Beetle Early Attack Using Multi-Sensor Time Series in the Pine-Spruce Forest of Northern Colorado, USA
Faculty Mentor: John Rogan

Su YeBark beetle outbreaks, linked to the recent enhanced temperature and prolonged drought, have caused an unprecedented level of tree mortality in conifer forest across the Western United States. Multiple synchronous bark beetle outbreaks impact sustaining ecosystem services such as carbon storage, biodiversity, and timber production. The efficacy of management practices are contingent upon an early detection of beetle attack, where infested trees containing the next generation of beetles can be removed before brood emergence. This project focuses on detecting and assessing recent bark beetle outbreaks in Northern Colorado. Through combining satellite data time series analysis and field-surveyed data, this research aims to develop a novel approach for systematic monitoring and assessment of gradual forest change such as beetle-related early-stage needle change. This project addresses a methodological goal pertinent to the utility of dense time-series of remotely sensed images for characterizing gradual forest change concerning beetle-induced forest degradation, which can potentially be applied to global forest pest epidemics happening elsewhere.

2018 Geller Award Recipients

Project: Reducing Food Wastage at Clark University via Food Sharing Application (ClarkEats)
Faculty Mentor:
John Magee

This project will develop a food-share mobile application and website (ClarkEats) to support student’s accessibility to food on campus while raising awareness of food waste. We will program an interface where users can post food they have left over from cooking or an event, and make that available to other students. The app may also support those who want to market and sell their food/beverages, such as through popular entrepreneurial courses. This application will be beneficial to end users by providing easily accessible food for those who need it, minimizing food waste on campus, reducing student costs on food and beverages, especially students not on the University meal plan, and create a more environmentally aware environment on campus.

Project: Farmer-Wildlife Conflict as Consequences and Drivers of Land System Change in the Indian Himalayas
Faculty Mentors: Rinku Roy Chowdhury and John Rogan

In rural areas adjoining forests, crop damage and loss attributed to wildlife is a significant issue. This project uses a land system science framework to ask how land systems contribute to and change as a result of farmer-wildlife conflict. The research is situated in Kangra, an agriculture-dependent rural landscape in the Indian Himalayas that has undergone decades of forest conservation and plantation projects. In recent years, Kangra has experienced increased farmer-wildlife conflict from crop-raiding monkeys, boar, and other large mammal species. Using a mixed-methods approach, this project seeks to understand the spatial relationships between the agro-forest land system and farmer-wildlife conflict, as well as the ways in which these conflicts induce farmers to use adopt different land management strategies depending on their agronomic, social, and economic contexts. Understanding these interactions helps address pressing questions in land system science, and is an important step towards community resilience and sustainable land use. Click here to see a news story about Roopa’s work.

Project: The Revolution within the Revolution: Understanding the Landscape and Livelihood Dynamics of the Cuban Agroecological Transition
Faculty Mentor: Rinku Roy Chowdhury

In an age of unprecedented abundance, we still face the enormous challenge of creating a truly sustainable, equitable food system. While industrial agriculture continues to dominate global food production, it also comes with mounting social and ecological externalities. To address these issues, many farmers have turned towards more sustainable, alternative methods such as agroecology. This project aims to contribute new and important insights on agroecology in Cuba. Specifically, this research will use both quantitative and qualitative methods to evaluate the social and ecological dimensions that such a food system transition entails for local communities. This project will integrate perspectives from the household, community and landscape scale into a framework of national agroecological transition, with the potential to inform broader re-imaginations of more equitable, sustainable food systems.

Project: Recruitment Failure, Habitat Suitability, or Host Limitation: What Limits Margaritifera Margaritifera in North-Central Massachusetts Streams?
Faculty Mentor: John Baker

The freshwater pearl mussel is a globally endangered mussel species. Despite years of study and concern in Europe, little is known about the distribution, recruitment, and survival of Margaritifera margaritifera in North American stream systems. Recent surveys suggest that there has been little or no recruitment in many streams in recent years. However, for the first few years of life juvenile mussels live well below the sediment surface, and thus may not be discovered in surface-oriented visual surveys that are usually conducted. The objective of this project is to determine whether the apparent recruitment problem of the freshwater pearl mussel is due to habitat or host factors. Data gathered from this recruitment study would enable conservation biologists to more appropriately use resources to regenerate this keystone species in their ecosystems. It would also allow the state to make sustainable and economic decisions on how to use the state’s natural resources.

Project: Studying the Social and Environmental Impacts of Electric Pedicabs in Worcester, MA
Faculty Mentors:
Chuck Agosta and Mary-Ellen Boyle

WooRides is a new pedicab company in Worcester that provides an eco-friendly, reliable and fun form of alternative transportation. Currently, WooRides’ operating radius is greatly limited by Worcester’s hills and expansive area. The addition of electric motors would effectively increase the radius in which WooRides can operate and thus serve a greater portion of the city’s population. The goal of this project is to better understand the social and environmental impact of adding electric-powered motors to local pedicabs. Specifically, this project will answer quantitative research questions regarding the increase in range in which pedicab drivers can efficiently reach customers and the associated reduction of carbon emissions. This project also aims to answer qualitative research questions concerning the Worcester community’s views on alternative eco-friendly transportation methods. To keep with WooRides’ goal of producing zero-emissions in their transportation efforts, the batteries powering the motors would be charged with solar energy.

Project: Climate Information Services for Development and Livelihoods: Investigating Adaptation Subjects in Mali
Faculty Mentor:
Ed Carr

Climate information services (CIS), broadly understood as the packaging and dissemination of climate information to targeted user populations, have been produced by the climate science community for many years. More recently, CIS have been taken up by development organizations as means of addressing vulnerabilities associated with climate change and variability. While the development community takes a positive view of the potential of CIS to further the achievement of development goals in a changing climate, there has been little critical attention paid to the ways in which CIS design and implementation impact the complex livelihoods decisions that characterize the lives of potential CIS users. This project seeks to fill this gap through a case study of the Mali Agrometeorological Advisory Program in Mali, West Africa. The program provides an opportunity to explore how a CIS does and does not align with its presumed users’ livelihood realities. More specifically, this project seeks to understand how, through their interaction with CIS, users negotiate this information and rework their livelihoods.

Project: Genome Engineering and Human-Environment Interactions: Implications for Sustainability?
Faculty Mentor:
James Murphy

In 2012, a genome engineering technology called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) was developed, enabling scientists to make precise, site-specific changes to the genomes of essentially any species, including human beings, with unparalleled ease and significantly lower costs. The technology has been swiftly adopted in fields such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and ecology. This newfound power over the fundamental building blocks of nature has provoked considerable ethical and moral concerns, and several prominent researchers involved in developing CRISPR collectively called for caution to assess risks. Through interviews with key researchers in two research centres where CRISPR was developed and is being applied, this research project investigates the applications of the technology for environmental management and, more broadly, what this means for understandings of sustainability.

Project: Constructing Territory: Regional Coalitions, International Environmental Governance, and the Quest for Development Alternatives in Mesoamerica
Faculty Mentor:
Tony Bebbington

Laura Sauls
Indigenous and forest communities have fought for greater recognition of their rights to forests by drawing on social justice claims and scientific evidence of lower rates of deforestation in their collective lands. In Latin America, these communities now have rights to nearly 30 percent of the region’s forests; however, they continue to face threats from advancing agricultural frontiers, large-scale infrastructure, extractive industry expansion, and state efforts to maintain or re-centralize control over natural resources. To counter this trend, some indigenous and forest peoples have mobilized to assert an alternate vision of territorial governance of the world’s most carbon-rich and biodiverse forests. Through collaborative research with the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), its member groups across Central America, and the NGO PRISMA, I ask how such regional coalition-building influences forest governance in the region and, in turn, territorial identities and socio-ecological systems.

2017 Geller Award Recipients

Project: Variegated Green Capitalism and the Decentralized Developmental State: A Case Study on the Low-speed Electric Vehicle (LSEV) Industry in Shandong, China
Faculty Mentor: Yuko Aoyama

Yifan KaiChina is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s green superpowers in a wide range of sectors including green transportation; in 2015, it became the world’s largest and fastest-growing electric vehicle (EV) market. More than half of the EVs sold in China are low-speed electric vehicles (LSEV), which are produced by entrepreneurial start-up firms. While existing research on sustainable transitions in China has predominantly focused on the role of the state and its public sectors, especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs), little attention has been paid to the bottom-up approach and the role of the private sector. The objective of this project is to shed light on green capitalism driven by bottom-up sustainable entrepreneurship against the background of the Chinese developmental state’s top-down approach to sustainability. Using a case study of the LSEV industry, this research will analyze: (1) strategies used by LSEV firms to achieve technological leapfrogging goals in niche markets, (2) the role of the state at the subnational level in the development of the LSEV industry, and (3) the relationships between the top-down and bottom-up approaches to sustainable development for the LSEV case. This research aims at offering a nuanced account of the governance framework of sustainable development at different scales of the Chinese developmental state.

Project: Toward a Framework for Decolonizing Integrated Conservation and Development Projects at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Faculty Mentor:
Edward Carr

Many NGOs have lauded the achievements of integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs), yet scholarly research shows that most of these programs fail or produce less than optimal results due to a variety of social, institutional and economic factors. One major obstacle to their effectiveness can be attributed to the ways in which ICDPs create or worsen inequalities among community members and between communities and external actors. In many cases, especially those involving ecotourism, ICDPs have reinforced colonial power relations pointing to possible racial and class bias embedded in institutional discourses. This research looks at ICDPs involving the management of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP), which includes the San peoples of the Southern Kalahari and a variety of local, state and global actors. This particular ICDP, resulting from a land restitution initiative, has not only failed to improve economic well-being for the San, but it has inadvertently reproduced colonial racial and class relations. This research seeks to: (1) empirically link colonial and contemporary discourses to show that race, class and possibly gender bias shape management at KTP, and (2) work with management institutions to improve conservation and sustainable development efforts by identifying strategies for dismantling race, class and gender bias in policies and practices.

Project: Drought in the New Rurality: Transformation of the Rural Landscape of the Yucatán and its Implications under a Changing Climate
Faculty Mentors:
Rinku Roy Chowdhury and John Rogan

Patterns of tropical precipitation are expected to change substantially over the 21st century. Preliminary climatological analysis indicates the southern Yucatán has already begun to experience changes in the form of less and more variable rainfall. Unpredictable and drier conditions put at risk virtually all sources of subsistence and income of local smallholder households. Despite these changes, over the last decade, land-use in the region has been experiencing a shift from traditional swidden agricultural systems to follow two distinct trajectories: one characterized by more intensive agriculture, and another based on strict conservation of forest cover. Agrarian policy subsidizing the modernization-technification of slash-and-burn practices, as well as conservation instruments restricting forest clearance, contribute to the gradual replacement of a formerly heterogeneous and highly dynamic landscape for one that is temporally more stable and spatially more segregated. What remains to be known is how this transitioning landscape and the livelihoods in it will be affected by increasingly drier conditions and unpredictable rainfall. This research seeks to understand how processes of agricultural intensification and desintensification in the southern Yucatán are happening, and to investigate how such processes could amplify or ameliorate the vulnerability of smallholders to drought in the region.

Project: Managing Resources in Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park
Faculty Mentor:
James McCarthy

Community based resource management (CBRM) has been discussed in conservation and resource management circles, and debates have intensified as conservation and development have become integrated in responses to global environmental change. These debates indicate that CRBM must provide social, economic and ecologically sustainable outcomes. This project examines CBRM in Moore Town in Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCM), a World Heritage Site. Given the rich biodiversity of BCJM, the reliance on small-scale farming in the community, and generally high levels of rural poverty in Jamaica, Moore Town is a good case study through which CBRM can be examined with respect to all three measures of sustainability. Moore Town may offer unique insights given its history as a community for runaway slaves. This research project seeks to understand the structure and outcome of CBRM in Moore Town. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, this project will examine the institutional arrangement in the community in order to understand perceptions, effects, and implications of resource management in Moore Town and for environmental governance more generally.

2016 Geller Award Recipients

Project: Monitoring Forest Loss and Degradation to Evaluate Forest Restoration Priorities in Rwanda
Faculty Mentors:
John Rogan and Ronald Eastman

Gishwati-Mukura National Park (GMNP) is a conservation component of a chain of protected areas in densely populated western Rwanda. This richly biodiverse region has experienced unprecedented forest loss and degradation in the last 30 years that have resulted in major regional losses of wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and ecosystem services, as well as erosion, flooding, and major landslides that threaten the life of local populations. Increasing interests in afforestation activities aiming to reconnect Gishwati to Mukura and to improve livelihoods, forest ecosystem health, and climate resiliency have attracted major international donors including the World Bank. However, information on spatial locations of highly suitable habitats that would increase forest cover while minimizing competition among land uses is lacking from both local ecological and communities’ perspectives. This project uses remote sensing and socio-ecological field data to explore trends in deforestation, forest degradation and afforestation in GMNP, in order to evaluate sustainable forest restoration priorities.

Project: Re-politicizing Global Climate Change: Stories from High-Mountain Communities in Nepal and Bolivia
Faculty Mentor:
James McCarthy

High-mountain populations are among the most vulnerable populations to global climate change. However, their perspectives (i.e., stories from the frontlines) are critically different from the prevailing climate change discourse, for example by discussing llama fetuses rather than carbon fluxes. By researching these alternative perspectives, this project aims to explore counter-narratives to normative climate politics, thereby carving out necessary imaginative capacities to discuss future climate governance and policy design. Specifically, the project will utilize a mixed methods approach–a combination of traditional ecological knowledge, storytelling, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)–to study climate change narratives in the Bolivian Andes and the Nepalese Himalayas. While similar in some ways (altitude, glaciology, etc.), there are substantive differences (religions, economies, etc.) between the two regions that offer unique stories. Together, this comparative study will provide a dynamic view of alternative approaches to global climate change policy.

Project: Contemporary Agrarian Transformation in China: Ongoing Transfer of Rural Land Use Rights in a Reform Era
Faculty Mentor: James McCarthy

Transfers of land use rights, forbidden by law until 1984, are now central to China’s development policies and implemented nationwide. Under current rules, local authorities formally subcontract the use rights of collectively owned rural land to villagers, which contributes to the enormous transformations of agricultural production and social relations in the countryside. How the formalization of land transfer practices takes place, how it interacts with the politics of contemporary agrarian transformation, and what the implications are for policy-making and implementation, all require a close investigation into the ongoing practices and politics on the ground. Utilizing multiple sources of data (e.g., statistical records, participant observation, and interviews with stakeholders across levels), this project combines top-down and bottom-up perspectives to uncover the intentions behind, processes of, and outcomes from the formalization of these land transfer practices.

Project: Modeling Faunal Vulnerability to Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in Madre de Dios, Peru
Faculty Mentor:
Florencia Sangermano

Peru is the world’s fifth largest producer of gold, with the Madre de Dios region producing over 70% of Peru’s gold. The recent rise in the price of gold has made it profitable to mine in previously unprofitable areas, such as deposits in tropical forests. Environmental threats associated with gold mining include arsenic, cyanide and mercury pollution of air, water, and soil. Using maps of artisanal and small-scale mines and data on species geographic distribution, this project will identify changes in the landscape related to mining activities and relate these changes to species biodiversity and composition in the surrounding landscape. In-situ verification of map accuracy and interviews of local stakeholders about changes in land-use and their perceptions surrounding wildlife and biodiversity will be conducted. This international collaborative research will improve our understanding of the species and regions that could be affected by increased mining activities. Results may lead to changes in land use practices and conservation efforts and impact policy decisions concerning mining in areas of high biodiversity.

Project: (Un)frozen Boundaries: Examining the Role of Sea Ice in the Socio-legal Dynamics of the Bering Sea Pollock Fishery
Faculty Mentors:
Karen Frey and Deborah Martin

Sea ice is a dynamic element of the greater Arctic marine ecosystem. Its changing physicality influences a variety of socio-cultural processes, such as the extraction of living resources, the vitality and propagation of those resources in the marine environment, maritime activity, subsistence hunting activities, and search and rescue operations. Changes to the spatial extent of sea ice presents challenges for international law and no internationally agreed upon legal regime for sea ice currently exists. This is particularly problematic in the Bering Sea where recent increases in the seasonal spatial extent of sea ice could present a hazard to fishing vessels, threaten the sustainability of an economically viable marine fishery, and intensify debates over maritime boundaries. Using legal archival analysis, document analysis, and semi-structured interviews, this project will investigate the linkages between dynamic sea ice, Pollock fishery resources, and ocean law within Bering Sea.

About the Gellers

The Albert, Norma and Howard Geller ’77 Endowed Student Research Awards were established by the family of Dr. Howard Geller.

Howard Geller graduated from Clark in 1977 with degrees in physics and science, technology and society (now environmental science and policy). After Clark, he earned graduate degrees at Princeton and the University of Sao Paolo and became the first executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). After 20 years of accomplishments at ACEEE, including contributions to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 and the Energy Policy Act of 1992, he left ACEEE to found and direct the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) in 2001.

Remembering his own experience as an activist student researcher at Clark, Howard Geller hopes these annual awards will support other Clark students as they combine research with action that moves society toward sustainability.

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