From Kathmandu to the Alaskan Coast: students' master's projects leave an imprint around the globe

Originally published: 
April, 2017

Ashley Dickerson (MLA ’17) and Qianyun Yuan (MLA ’17) for ForestAction Nepal-Kathmandu, Nepal
Buffer Zone Planning in Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park: How Inclusive Policy making Can Inform More Resilient Park-People Relations and Protect Ecological Services in Nepal’s Capital

This master’s project sought to test the "buffer zone" concept, which has been hailed as a conservation practice-and nowhere more than in Nepal. In the past 20 years, the Nepalese government has dedicated 24% of the nation’s total land area to buffer zones in an effort to protect ecological and cultural assets. A new buffer zone was created in early 2016 around Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park (SNNP), less than 10 miles north of Kathmandu. With the aid of a local translator, the master’s project team spoke with dozens of community members living in SNNP and its new buffer zone to understand their experiences and perspectives.

"Our 3 month experience in the Kathmandu Valley provided a unique opportunity for cultural exploration and contextual investigations. In this highly sensitive region of the world, we sought an understanding of the people's daily experiences and their needs for better livelihood support." - Ashley Dickerson, '17

Advised by Arun Agrawal and Victoria Campbell-Arvai


Sachiko Graber (MS ‘17) and Tara Narayanan (MS/MA ‘17) for The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)-Uttar Pradesh, India
Solar Microgrids in Rural India: Policy and Market Analysis

Renewable, off-grid electricity generation provides both environmental sustainability and development opportunities, especially in developing countries. In India, microgrid markets are supported through public policy, and are promoted in rural areas. To gain insight on consumer needs and preferences, this project surveyed 216 households across 22 villages of rural Uttar Pradesh. Results indicate that consumers are currently more satisfied with microgrid than grid power supply. Results also show that consumer preference for electricity is based most strongly on power, reliability, and price (in that order). These findings can be used to help shape micro grid development and inform public policy in order to strengthen the rural electricity sector and improve electricity access.

"This project was a significant and humbling component of my master’s program that emphasized the practical difficulties of sustainable development. The support of our client and in gathering data and reaching out to people on the ground was invaluable, as was the support from SNRE faculty and staff. The project also t
aught me to reexamine my understanding and perceptions of renewable based electrification, the needs of rural populations, and the role of supportive environments for financing small projects." - Tara Narayan ’17

"We received extensive support from faculty to hone both qualitative and quantitative study techniques that have allowed us to return a rich report back to our client, who hopes to use it to further the support for rural electrification in India." - Sachiko Graber ’17

Advised by Jose Alfaro


Christina Carlson (MS/MBA ’18), Alexandra Clayton (MS/MPP ’18), Joshua Flickinger (MS ’17), Flora Yifan He (MS ’17), and Sarah Turner (MS ’17) for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies-Homer, Alaska
Inspiration Ridge Preserve: Baseline Ecological Inventory and Management Plan

The Inspiration Ridge Preserve (IRP)is a 690-acre property with a diverse array of wildlife and habitat. Located in Homer, Alaska, the preserve soon will come under the ownership and management of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies (CACS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering land stewardship. CACS plans to manage the preserve for environmental education and to protect native flora and fauna. This master’s project provided CACS with a baseline ecological inventory of the preserve, as well as habitat maps that will serve as reference for future preserve management. Students also provided recommendations for long-term management, including the use of photo-monitoring points to monitor the preserve.

"Working with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies for our master's project was a singularly valuable part of the SNRE learning experience for our team. I personally appreciated the project for the experience working with the multiple players involved in local-scale conservation, performing on-the-ground ecology-oriented fieldwork, managing team efforts as a group, and translating skills from classes into practical GIS data management and mapping."- Josh Flicklinger '17

"Our field work experience in Homer, Alaska would be the dream of any conservationist. Each day, we hiked on mountain ridges covered with fireweed blossoms that overlooked glaciers and volcanos across the bay and surveyed the plant and animal communities in the area. Our encounters with moose, porcupines, bald eagles, sea otters, and whales always left me in awe of nature. Meeting the local residents who dedicated their time to environmental issues was even more inspiring. I thank SNRE and our client for such an incredible experience!" - Flora Yifan, '17

Advised by Bill Currie


Wiles Kase (MS/MBA ’18), Robert Kraynak (MS/MBA ’18), Melissa Morton (MS/MBA ’18), Sean Pavlik (MS/MBA ’18), and Kavya Vayyasi (MS ’17) for the Green Bay Packers-Green Bay, Wisconsin
Green Bay Packers Titletown Development Sustainability Recommendations

Sustainability has not been addressed substantively by either the National Football League (NFL) or most of the individual teams within it. The Green Bay Packers are in the early stages of addressing sustainability, particularly with Titletown, a new commercial center under development next to Lambeau Field. Sustainability is important and relevant to the Lambeau Field/Titletown complex because of the complex’s large environmental and economic footprint. This project provided the Packers with concrete sustainability recommendations that will be implemented in Titletown and Lambeau Field, including a more sustainable playfield and lighting infrastructure. The team also provided recommendations for a high-level sustainability strategy that will guide the Packers’ future sustainability efforts.

"The Green Bay Packers are a large part the economic and cultural fabric of Wisconsin. Working with a high-profile client on sustainability issues brought to light the opportunities and challenges of engaging such a wide variety of stakeholders. Our SNRE team enjoyed assisting both on sustainability implementations within a new development as well as overarching strategy for the organization as part of this project." - Sean Pavlik '18

Advised by Joe Arvai and Mark Lindquist


Lillie Kline (MS ‘17), John Andreoni (MS ‘17), Astrid Santiago (MS ’17), and Alex Truelove (MS ‘17) for Paso Pacifico-southwestern Nicaragua
Conservation and Cattle Production: Improving the Matrix through Silvopasture

Across the globe and over centuries, tropical dry forests (TDFs) have been disproportionately subject to agricultural conversion. Whereas much of conservation research focuses on forest fragments, this project examined how a high-quality matrix can benefit both biodiversity and farmer livelihoods through connectivity and provision of ecosystem services. Specifically, the project assessed how silvopastural practices can enhance the conservation value of disturbed tropical dry forest habitat, while also benefiting local ranchers. Preliminary results indicate that forest cover does not reduce cattle weight and that trees and shrubs provide key services to cattle during periods of drought. Findings further imply that improved tree cover in pastoral systems can enhance their conservation value for resident birds without compromising agricultural productivity.

"Studying the agroecosystems of southwestern Nicaragua was an amazing experience. I care about wildlife conservation deeply, but it is so important to remember that people rely on these lands, too. The great news is that conservation really can happen on farms without sacrificing agricultural productivity, creating a win-win scenario. The future of conservation may very well lie in the hands of private landowners." - Lillian Kline '17

Advised by Ivette Perfecto


Devin Gill (MS ’17), Tonghui Ming (MS ’17), and Wanqi Ouyang (MS ’17) for the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER)-Ann Arbor, Michigan
Improving the Lake Erie HAB Tracker: A Forecasting and Decision-Support Tool for Harmful Algal Blooms

The harmful algal blooms (HABs) that plague western Lake Erie pose an avoidable danger to anglers and boaters. NOAA maintains an online tool (the HAB Tracker) to predict the location and movement of HABs, which is available to the public but underutilized. This project identified potential improvements in the tool’s predictive accuracy, as well as its functionality. The team conducted focus group interviews with Lake Erie charter captains and recreational anglers to evaluate perceptions of HABs and the HAB Tracker. Results indicate that most anglers seek to avoid fishing in HABs, but that beliefs vary regarding the impact of HABs on fish and human health. To make the tool more useful to the public, the team recommended specific improvements in presentation, as well as content that better reflects angler concerns and interests.

"Communication between researchers and stakeholders is necessary to effectively address HABs in Lake Erie, but it can be challenging. Sometimes it seems like they speak different languages. It was really rewarding to meet with anglers and help them to feel like they were being heard by the researchers. "At the start of the project, we weren't sure if anglers were much impacted by the blooms. Their insights into how HABs affect their fishing were enlightening. I was delighted by how engaged and knowledgeable the anglers were about the issue, and how eager they were to do what they could to help researchers address it. It was truly inspiring. I'm eager to see how this work may shape research efforts in the future." - Devin Gill '17

Advised by Brad Cardinale and Mark Rowe