Dr. Zhao Ma

Dr. Zhao MaI am a Professor of Natural Resource Social Science. As a natural resource social scientist, the overarching goal of my research is to contribute to knowledge that improves individual and organizational capacity to make natural resource decisions to adapt to social-ecological change at various scales. Specifically, my research lies at the intersection of political ecology and social psychology, and examines natural resource decision making processes of two types of actors, individuals and organizations. I ask questions about (1) how individuals and organizations perceive social-ecological changes and the associated natural resource challenges at various scales, (2) how individuals and organizations respond to social-ecological changes and address the associated natural resource challenges, (3) how various ecological, climatic, social, economic, political, and cultural factors influence decision making by individuals and within organizations, and (4) what intended and unintended impacts may result from individual and organizational natural resource decisions. Broadly speaking, my research provides insights into what information, assistance, and incentives may be helpful for promoting sustainable natural resource decisions by individuals, and how individual attitudes and behaviors across the landscape and over time cumulatively affect the effectiveness of various natural resource policies and programs.

I have been at Purdue since 2013, and was previously on faculty at Utah State University. I was a post-doctoral fellow in the Family Forest Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I obtained my Ph.D. in Natural Resource Science and Management from the University of Minnesota, M.A. in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University, and BS in Material Physics from the University of Science and Technology Beijing. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities to work with so many great scholars, students and practitioners, who have greatly shaped my thinking about the social-ecological world we all live in and my pursuit of natural resource social science research.


Chelsea Silva

Chelsea Silva Chelsea is the Research Coordinator for the Human Dimensions lab. In her role, Chelsea helps to plan and manage research project processes and milestones and develop relationships with collaborators and stakeholders. Chelsea manages daily operations and communications for the lab, including managing undergraduate research assistants and ongoing data collection. She has a Masters of Science in Environmental Sciences & Policy from Northern Arizona University, and a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and a B.A. in Foreign Languages (Spanish) from the University of Idaho. Chelsea is interested in effective, inclusive facilitation and collaboration for sustainable watershed management.

Email: casilva@purdue.edu


Post-doctoral research associates

Dr. Becca Nixon

becca nixon
Dr. Nixon is a postdoctoral research associate with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Human Dimensions Lab. Her research focuses on environmental justice in coastal communities and adaptation to social-ecological change.

Project description: Becca’s current project examines the links between environmental restoration and community revitalization in areas along the Great Lakes where significant remediation and restoration projects have been employed to repair highly degraded shorelines. This project seeks to identify the catalysts of revitalization as well as the equity implications of community change.


  • Ph.D. in Natural Resource Social Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2021)
  • M.S. in Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University, Ames, IA (2017)
  • B.A. in Education, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI (2011)
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Email: nixon17@purdue.edu

Website: https://beccanixon.weebly.com/


Current graduate students

Rebekah Dickens Ohara

Rebekah Dickens Ohara
Rebekah is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project description: Rebekah’s research supports the development of a community managed forest in North Kona and explores institutional best practices in collaboratively managed terrestrial systems. Specifically, Rebekah will perform a political ecology analysis of stewardship networks in North Kona and South Kohala, Hawai‘i Island through Stewardship Mapping and Assessment (STEW-MAP).


  • M.A. in Social Science, Environment and Community, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA (2013)
  • B.A. in Anthropology, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA (2009)
  • Teaching License, Chaminade University, Honolulu, HI (2014)
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Email: rebekah@akakaforests.org or oharar@purdue.edu

Brooke McWherter

Brooke McWherter Brooke is currently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project Description: Brooke’s research uses a random control trial experimental design to explore how individuals take up different types of water conservation contracts in lowland Bolivia and the different socioeconomic and social equity factors that may influence those decisions.


  • M.S. in Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI (2018)
  • B.S. in Wildlife Biology, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO
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Email: bmcwhert@purdue.edu

Nathan Shoaf

Nathan Shoaf
Nathan is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project description: Forthcoming.


  • M.S. in Ecological Science and Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
  • B.S. in English Literature, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
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Email: nlshoaf@purdue.edu

Taylor Stinchcomb

Taylor Stinchcomb Taylor is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project description: Taylor’s research investigates people’s cognitions, emotions, and satisfaction towards white-tailed deer populations and their management across Indiana. She uses mixed-methods social science including interviews, focus groups, surveys, and geospatial analysis. Her research is part of Purdue’s Integrated Deer Management Project, a collaboration with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.


  • M.S. in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK
  • B.A. in Environmental Studies, Reed College, Portland, OR
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Email: tstinchc@purdue.edu

Mary Strickland

Mary Strickland Mary is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science as part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering Graduate Program.

Project description: Mary’s project determines the barriers to and opportunities for conservation-oriented adaptations and pro-environmental behaviors for coastal communities in Rhode Island. This research is in collaboration with the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and it will be used to highlight areas within coastal community resilience education and outreach programs that can be improved to facilitate higher levels of participation.


  • M.S. in Biology at Georgia Southern University (2015)
  • B.S. in Wildlife at Purdue University (2013)
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Email: mstrick@purdue.edu

Undergraduate research assistants

Emilie Washer

emilie_waasher Emilie is pursuing a B.S. in Aquatic Sciences with an emphasis in Marine & Freshwater Biology, and a minor in Environmental Politics & Policy (expected graduation: May 2022).

Research interests and career goals: Emilie assists with several research projects in the lab, including one focused on coupled human-natural systems, and another on improved seed technology. Emilie is interested in researching how scientific advances impact societal developments and human behaviors. Within the marine biology field, she is also interested in coral reef conservation, restoration, and management. Upon graduation, Emilie hopes to pursue a career in environmental law.


Visiting scholars and students

Zelin Wang

Zelin Wang Zelin Wang is a visiting scholar in the Human Dimensions Lab, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Xi’an Jiaotong University, with a focus on environment justice.

Project description: Zelin’s research focuses on the environmental justice aspect of large-scale water transfer projects in China, with a focus on the mid-route project for the South-to-North Water Transfer Project in southern Shaanxi.


  • M.A. in aesthetics, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China; Advisor: Pengjie Han (2015)
  • B.A. in Philosophy, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China (2013)
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Email: wang3732@purdue.edu or zelin.wang@foxmail.com


Former Lab Members

Graduate students, Post-doctoral research associates, and Visiting scholars


Dr. Anna Erwin

Anna Erwin

Dr. Erwin was a postdoctoral researcher in the Human Dimensions Lab working with the Nexus Institute, a collaboration between Purdue University and the Universidad Nacional de San Agustin de Arequipa (UNSA). Dr. Erwin now serves as Assistant Professor at University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley.

Project Description: The Nexus Institute project investigates how communities across the rural-to-urban gradient in the Arequipa Region perceive water availability and quality in the context of climate change to identify potential strategies for facilitating the co-existence of agriculture, mining, and regional development in an equitable way.


  • PhD in Planning, Governance, and Globalization, Virginia Tech, VA (2017)
  • M.A. in Appropriate Technology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC (2009)
  • B.A. in English, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC (2004)
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Website: http://www.annaerwin.com/

Meagan Rathjen

Meagan Rathjen
Meagan was a PhD student in Natural Resource Social Science as part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering Graduate Program.

Project description: Meagan’s research determined the environmental  and social equity impacts of conditionality in a Payment for Ecosystem Services program in Bolivia.


  • M.A. in International Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C. (2017)
  • M.A. in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, UN Mandated University for Peace, Costa Rica (2017)
  • B.A. in Botany, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Hawaii (2012)
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Email: mrathjen@purdue.edu


Kimberly Ordonez

Kimberly graduated in 2020 with an MS in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project description: Kimberly’s research examined the psychological distance of invasive plants with a focus on family forest owners in the Central Hardwood Region of the U.S.

Education: B.S. in Wildlife, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2017)


Jake Hawes

Jake Hawes
Jake graduated in 2019 with a MS in Natural Resource Social Science as part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering Graduate Program.

Project description: Jake’s research modeled the social, economic, and environmental impacts of a new water rights agreement in the Eastern Snake River Plain in Idaho. Jake constructed an agent-based model to identify resilience of water management institutions in the face of water use limits and climate change.


  • B.S. in Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2017)
  • M.S. Natural Resource Social Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2019)
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Email: jasonkhawes@gmail.com

Dr. Ruxandra (Rux) Popovici

Rux was a post-doctoral research associate in the Human Dimensions lab working with the Arequipa Nexus Institute. In 2019, Rux moved to Dr. Lina Prokopy’s Natural Resource Social Science lab. Rux continues to conduct research with the Arequipa Nexus Institute as a member of the Sustainable Watershed Management (SWM) group.

Dr. Landon Young

Landon Young
Landon was a PhD in Civil Engineering as part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering Graduate Program.

Project description: Landon’s research investigated the impact of community-level innovation processes on project outputs and outcomes, including transformative and adaptive capacity, in Malawi specifically and Sub-Saharan Africa broadly.


  • M.S. in Interdisciplinary Ecological Science and Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2012)
  • B.S. in Landscape Architecture, Minor Horticulture, Certificate Entrepreneurship, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2011)
  • PhD in Civil Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2019)
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Other experience: 

  • University Innovation Fellows Design Thinking Program, Standford d.school, Stanford University, Stanford, CA (2014)
  • Executive Education Certificate Program: Sustainable Cities Master Planning, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA (2012)
  • Landon was named one of thirteen Kauffman Foundation Global Scholars in 2013, awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship in 2011, and is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/landonyoung/

Dr. Becky Barak

Becky Barak
Dr. Barak was a 2017 David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow, working with Zhao Ma (Purdue University), Lars Brudvig (Michigan State University) and Kayri Havens (Chicago Botanic Garden).

Project description: Dr. Barak studied biodiversity and restoration in the tallgrass prairie. Her post-doctoral research project focused on seed mix design for restoration from a social and ecological perspective.


  • Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL (2017)
  • M.S. in Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University/Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago, IL (2012)
  • A.B. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ (2004)
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Email: beckybarak@u.northwestern.edu

Websites: https://www.beckybarak.com/ or https://conbio.org/mini-sites/smith-fellows/meet-the-fellows/2017-fellows/rebecca-barak


Dr. Mysha Clarke

Mysha Clarke
Mysha was a Ph.D. student in the lab from 2014 to 2018, and her dissertation was about the human dimensions of invasive plants management on family forestlands in Indiana. Mysha is going to start a post-doc position at Villanova University in August 2018.

Jenn Domenech

Jenn Domenech
Jenn was a Masters student in Natural Resource Social Science. She joined the lab after completing her service as an Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Peace Corps Paraguay in 2016. In her free time, Jenn enjoys dogs, trivia, and board games.

Project description: Jenn’s research assessed factors shaping resident’s adoption of water quality improvement practices across different types of landownership in northwestern Indiana.


  • B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI (2014)
  • M.S. in Natural Resource Social Science (2018)
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Email: jdomenec@purdue.edu or jenndomenech@gmail.com

2017 and prior

Dr. Diana Steele-Jones

Diana was a post-doctoral research associate from 2016 to 2017. She obtained her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Purdue University in 2015. Diana is currently an independent consultant and her website is: https://dianasteele.squarespace.com/


Keri Iles

Keri was a M.S. in Natural Resource Social Science from 2015 to 2017, and her thesis was about small-scale farming in Indiana with a focus on farmer identity and community and how those interact with sustainability of the farming operations. Keri is currently a natural resource specialist in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.


Dr. Morey Burnham

Morey was a Ph.D. student in the lab from 2010 to 2014, and his dissertation was about climate change perception and adaptation among smallholder farmers in China. Morey is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminology at Idaho State University.


Jamie Laatsch

Jamie was a M.S. student in the lab from 2012 to 2014, and her thesis was about forest management and policy strategies adopted by the USDA Forest Service in response to climate change in the Intermountain West. Jamie is currently the Conservation and Outreach Coordinator for the Henry’s Fork Foundation in Idaho.


Dr. Dingming An

Dr. Dingming An was a visiting scholar in the lab from December 2014 to December 2015. His research focused on issues related to environmental migration in the Sanjiangyuan region of China. He is currently an associate professor in the School of Finance and Economics at Qinghai University in China.


Daniela Alvarado Rincon

Daniela was an exchange undergraduate student from the National University of Colombia. She visited the lab from June to December 2015. Her research focused on the framing and policy discourse related to the use and management of “wasteland”  (Baldíos) in Colombia.


Colleen Hartel

Colleen was a full-time research assistant in the lab from March to December 2014. She was part of the research team at Purdue working with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife on updating and revising Indiana’s State Wildlife Action Plan. She is currently pursuing a MS degree at Ohio State University.


Seth Cook

Seth was a M.S. student in the lab from 2010 to 2012, and his thesis was about the human dimensions of carbon sequestration on private rangelands in Utah. Seth is currently the Director of Land Conservation for the Pee Dee Land Trust in South Carolina.


Undergraduate research assistants


Isabella Cerchiaro Sanchez

isabella cerchiaro sanchez Isabella Cerchiaro Sanchez is a Mining and Metallurgical Engineering student from Universidad Nacional de Colombia (expected graduation: September 2022). She studied at Purdue University as a visiting undergraduate research student through the 2021 Undergraduate Research Experience Purdue-Columbia (UREP-C) program.

Research interests and career goals: My interests as a student are to learn about the main factors that affect sustainability in small communities that grow around artisanal mining and to know how to approach small communities to learn about the social reality that is lived there, in order to improve the quality of life of the people who are part of them in the future. In the future I would like to continue my studies focusing on sustainable development and social work with communities.


Angela Guo

Angela Guo Angela completed a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Science with a concentration in Environmental Policy and a minor in English.

Research interests and career goals: Angela is interested in studying human impacts on the natural environment and the implications for climate change. Angela assists with several research projects in the Human Dimensions lab to learn more about data collection methods along with thesocial and collaborative aspects of the research process. Upon graduation, Angela will further her education by attending a graduate program in Environmental Policy.


Mya Smith

mya_smith Mya is pursuing a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Science with an emphasis in Land Resources, and a minor in Spanish for the Professions (expected graduation: May 2021).

Research interests and career goals: Mya is interested in ecological restoration and aims to use her time as a research assistant in the Human Dimensions lab to gain a more comprehensive knowledge about how and why groups and individuals make environmental decisions, and the impacts of those decisions on the environment. She is also interested in how culture influences environmental choices. Upon graduation, Mya hopes to find a position that implements and analyzes environmental sustainability, natural resource, management, and/or mitigation, ideally one that combines time in the office with time spent in the field.


Marly Beck

Marley Beck Marly Beck is a junior studying Sustainable Food and Farming Systems as well as Global Studies (expected graduation: May 2020). Mary worked in the lab during 2018 on the Arequipa Nexus Institute Coexistence team. She is interested in the dynamics of natural resources within food production and ensuring food security. After graduation, she intends to pursue a Masters in International Development with a concentration on Food and Agriculture.

Kasha Halbleib

Kasha Halbleib graduated with her B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Science with a concentration in policy in 2019. She wsa involved in environmental organizations around campus as well as intramural sports. Kasha worked on the Improved Seed Technology research for the lab, and planned to attend law school after graduation to become an environmental justice or energy lawyer.



Iris McFarlin

Iris McFarlin Iris graduated from Iowa State University in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Ecology. She has worked in several different areas related to natural resources, from wildlife rehabilitation to gathering data at wind farms for an environmental consulting firm. She is especially interested in human dimensions of ecology and hopes to pursue her Master’s degree in that field.

Austin Scheetz

Austin graduated in 2018 with a B.S. in Natural Resource & Environmental Science. He was involved in the Purdue Student Government (PSG), and served as the PSG Executive Director of Sustainability. Austin’s general interest is in using quantitative methods to prescribe environmental policies, and his particular area of interest is sustainable development, especially as it concerns deforestation and poaching. Austin is currently pursuing a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


Priyanka Shankar

Priyanka graduated in 2018 with degree in Sustainable Biomaterials Process and Product Designing and Industrial Engineering Technology.


Morgan Grey

Morgan graduated in 2018 with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology. She currently works in the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue.