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Departments & Programs


Training the Next Generation: Collaborating Locally

E-IPER PhD students mentor the next generation of scholars and leaders.

E-IPER students take our mission - to train the next generation of scholars and leaders - to heart every summer by engaging Stanford undergraduates and local students in their research on and beyond campus:

Mehana Blaich Vaughan (PhD 5th) worked with a stellar team of seven summer interns this year on her home island of Kaua'i, Hawai'i. One of the students, Elaine Albertson (Earth Systems) assisted Mehana on her dissertation work on community management of the subsistence fishery in Ha'ena, mapping the flows of fishing, sharing, and feeding from the area's reef. Beth Wylie (Archaeology/Earth Systems) who assisted Mehana last summer, returned to conduct her own Masters thesis research focused on another special area of Kaua'i, rugged
Maha'ulepu on the South Shore. Her work looks at stakeholder perspectives on the area's future preservation and options that integrate natural resource protection and human use. Aaron Peterson (English/Earth Systems), Kaipo Lucas (undeclared), and Allison Kerns (Santa Clara) also conducted projects in partnership with Malama Maha'ulepu, a
community organization that helps to care for the area. Aaron's project focused on invasive seaweed monitoring and removal, Kaipo researched and mapped traditional Hawai'ian land use and place names, while Allison focused on communication about the place. Finally, Helen Chen (Human Biology) and Woods Buckley (Earth Systems), monitored the water quality of north shore Kaua'i streams, and correlated these results with land use patterns including agriculture, golf course, and residential uses in the Halele'a district. The students assisted with one another's projects, and also volunteered for many
other Kaua'i organizations and events from the Koloa Plantation Days Parade, to poi making at Waipa, to trail restoration on the Na Pali Coast.

photo: Mehana Blaich Vaughan with three of her interns at an outdoor event on Kaua'iMehana and three of her interns. Courtesy of Mehana Blaich Vaughan.

"I found working with these students to be a wonderful reminder of why I'm pursuing an E-IPER PhD: to be able to teach, continually learn, and engage students in community-based research that can help in caring for places we love," Mehana wrote from Kaua'i.

Noa Lincoln (PhD 3rd) also mentored a large group of interns in Hawai'i, including three Stanford undergraduates, two non-traditional local students, one Dartmouth pre-frosh, and 14 students engaged with the Hawai'i Youth Conservation Corps. Focusing on impacts of land use on soil quality, the students aided in sampling nine forestry species in experimental plots in Honaunau; surveyed forest restoration sites to understand the effectiveness of various restoration techniques; setup and maintained experiments examining the impact of mulching practices; used isotope dilution techniques to examine nitrogen fixation in native crop varieties; and collected hundreds of soil samples to begin investigations into the extent and productivity of the indigenous agricultural system of Kona, Hawai'i.

"What amazed me was how well the vastly different interns worked together, not only helping one another but actively mentoring each other in different areas," Noa reflected on his experience as a mentor. "The sharing that occurred, for instance, between the Stanford students who have technical expertise and the local students who have place specific knowledge was truly inspiring." Despite working long field days, the group managed to see lava surface flows at Kalapana, dive at two world-class locales of Kealakekua and Honaunau, and see the meteor shower from the 13,800 foot summit of Mauna Kea.

photo: Anna Doty in the rainforest South Kona, Hawai'i, recording characteristics of a fern Anna records characteristics of a fern. Courtesy of Rachelle Gould.

Also in Hawai'i, Rachelle Gould (PhD 4th) led a team of dedicated interns who helped her research on understanding the multiple values associated with Hawai'i's upland forests. The team conducted 221 in-person surveys with residents of the South Kona area of the Big Island. The team also monitored 720 restoration planting sites, in which both seedlings and seeds have been planted to explore biophysically and economically feasible options for forest restoration. Each undergraduate also took the lead on her own particular project. Theo Gibbs (Anthropology) dug many holes in order to conduct a soil moisture study investigating whether the ferns used in the restoration experiment may be affecting the moisture available to adjacent plants. Anna Doty (Earth Systems) put together an elegant study testing whether chemical scarification, designed to mimic the digestive juices of a critically endangered bird known historically to disperse the seeds, of the ho'awa tree's seeds will impact their germination success. IberiaElster (undeclared) ran a massive effort to take 1440 fisheye photographs of restoration planting sites, which will be used to quantify the amount of sunlight reaching each site throughout the year. Jen Hashimoto (University of Hawai'i Hilo) helped Rachelle write ajournal article reporting on the summer's findings related to perceptions of the film Avatar in Hawai'i, and she also spearheaded the set-up of a restoration project investigating the effectiveness of planting native plant seeds directly on 'nurse logs' (dead wood on the forest floor) as a restoration technique.

Rachelle reports, "The summer's projects were a rich learning experience for all. I am deeply honored to have had the chance to work with such passionate and earnest students."

Rachael Garrett (PhD 3rd) spent two months in Santarém, Brazil researching farming systems and land use change with the assistance of Earth Systems undergraduate SophieTheis (Earth Systems) and co-term Masters student Briana Swette (Earth Systems). Located in the Amazonian biome, Santarém still contains extensive primary forest and has been the center of international concern over the rapid rate of land use change and the environmental impact of Cargill's soybean terminal. Rachael and her team conducted interviews with soybean farmers - recent migrants from Southern and Central West Brazil - about their migration motivations, land use decisions, and production practices. Through additional interviews with relevant local stakeholders, they also examined the effect of local institutions and policies on land use decisions in the region. As part of their work for their own theses, Sophie and Briana also conducted interviews with small holders practicing agroforestry in the region.

When asked about her summer, Rachael responded, "My major lesson was that the only difference between success and failure is hard work and persistence- nothing else. When you go to do something challenging in a foreign country, you are going to face a lot of obstacles, and there are going to be many times when you think there is something wrong with you - that you won't be able to do what you want to do. But that sort of fear is paralyzing and is actually the only thing keeping you from being successful. It is my hope that future students will not have to go through everything that I went through to realize that all they have to do be successful in their field is persevere."

Marilyn Cornelius (PhD 4th) continued her Department of Energy ARPA-E energy ethnography project at Stanford with four research assistants: Lily Cheng (Earth Systems graduate), Brian Wong (Science, Technology, and Society), Trista Shi (Earth Systems) and new intern Dean Young (Earth Systems). In Phase 1 the team interviewed experts to elicit innovative ideas for actions, services, and home adaptations that lower energy use. They also plan to interview carbon chefs, household historians, and seniors who lived through recessions. In Phase 2 the list of new ideas will be narrowed and tested for feasibility and "diffusibility" on a different population using in-depth interviews - professionals who spend little time at home, teens who use technology in the home, and people who stay home or work from home. In Phase 3 the ideas will be further refined to determine if they can be funded for commercial production, in collaboration with IDEO. Several publications will be produced from this research - cataloging existing recommendations for lowering energy use from a list of about 500 behaviors and presenting new ideas from experts that have been tested in the field, which program designers in ARPA-E and beyond can employ.

Andy Gerhart (PhD 5th) mentored research assistants Julio Mojica (Anthropology) and Jimmy Bennett (International Relations) through the Stanford Spatial History Lab's summer undergraduate research program. The experience taught Andy a great deal about motivating and directing individual student research while balancing it within a broader research agenda. Julio produced Neoliberalism, Civic Participationand the Salmon Industry in Southern Chile and Jimmy developed Conceding the Ocean.

E-IPER PhD students were supported by School of Earth Sciences and E-IPER summer grants, the Teresa Heinz Scholarship, and the National Science Foundation. Undergraduates were supported by a variety of campus sources: the Haas Center, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Undergraduate Advising and Research awards, Earth Sciences, Biology, Anthropology, Archaeology, the Woods Institute, Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and the Center for Conservation Biolog. The University of Hawai'i Hilo Pacific Internships Programs in Exploring Science also provided support.

Image credit: E-IPER PhD student Rachelle Gould trains her interns in the field.