Dr. Zhao Ma
I 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.
Post-doctoral research associates
Current graduate students
Rebekah Dickens Ohara
|Nathan is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science. He is also part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering (ESE) Graduate Program.
Project description: Forthcoming.
|Mary is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science. She is also part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering (ESE) Graduate Program. In 2022, Mary was awarded a prestigious Margaret A. Davidson Graduate Fellowship by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Project description: Mary’s dissertation research 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.
Undergraduate research assistants
Visiting scholars and students
Former Lab Members
Dr. Vaishnavi (Vaish) Tripuranani
Dr. Becca Nixon
|Dr. Nixon graduated with a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science. After graduation, she stayed at Purdue and worked as a post-doctoral research associate with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Human Dimensions Lab (co-mentors: Drs. Stuart Clarlton and Zhao Ma). Dr. Nixon’s research focused on environmental justice in coastal communities and adaptation to social-ecological change. Specifically, Dr. Nixon examined 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. Dr. Nixon is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Geography & Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware (https://www.udel.edu/academics/colleges/ceoe/departments/gss/faculty/rebecca-nixon/).|
Dr. Brooke McWherter
|Dr. McWherter graduated in 2022 with a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science. Her dissertation research explored 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. This research was part of a larger NSF-funded project that examined the environmental and social impacts of conditionality in a payments for ecosystem services program in Bolivia. In addition, Dr. McWherter also conducted research on factors shaping livestock producers’ perceptions of black vultures and their management in Indiana and Kentucky. Dr. McWherter is currently a post-doctoral research associate at Dalhousie University in Canada.|
Dr. Taylor Stinchcomb
|Dr. Stinchcomb graduated in 2022 with a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science. She was also part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering (ESE) Graduate Program. Dr. Stinchcomb’s dissertation research investigated people’s cognitions, emotions, and satisfaction towards white-tailed deer populations and their management across Indiana using interviews, focus groups, surveys, and geospatial analysis. Her research was part of Purdue’s Integrated Deer Management Project, a collaboration with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Currently, Dr. Stinchcomb is a Science Application Specialist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (Alaska).|
Dr. Zelin Wang
|Chelsea was the Research Coordinator for the Human Dimensions Lab (2019-2022). In her role, she helped plan and manage research project processes and milestones and developed relationships with collaborators and stakeholders. She also managed daily operations and communications for the lab, including managing undergraduate research assistants and ongoing data collection. Chelsea’s current position is the Healthy Rivers Program Associate with River Network.|
Dr. Anna Erwin
|Dr. Erwin was a postdoctoral researcher in the Human Dimensions Lab working with the Arequipa Nexus Institute for Sustainable Food, Energy, Water and the Environment, a collaboration between Purdue University and the Universidad Nacional de San Agustin de Arequipa (UNSA). Dr. Erwin’s current position is an assistant professor in the School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences at the University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley (https://www.utrgv.edu/seems/meet-us/faculty/erwin-anna/index.htm).a|
Meagan Suri (Rathjen)
|Kimberly graduated in 2020 with an MS in Natural Resource Social Science. 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. Kimberly is currently pursuing a PhD degree in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University.|
Dr. Ruxandra (Rux) Popovici
Dr. Landon Young
Dr. Becky Barak
Dr. Mysha Clarke
Dr. Diana Steele-Jones
Dr. Steele-Jones was a post-doctoral research associate in the Human Dimensions Lab from 2016 to 2017. She obtained her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology. While in the Human Dimensions Lab, Dr. Steele-Jones was part of two research teams, one focused on payments for ecosystem services programs in the Global South and the other focused on perceptions and practices of sustainability within the USDA Forest Service. Dr. Steele-Jones is currently an Academic Editor at AJE Editing (part of Springer Nature) in California.
Keri graduated in 2017 with a M.S. in Natural Resource Social Science, Her thesis research was focused on small-scale farming in Indiana, particularly the roles of identity and community and how they interact with sustainability of the farming operations. Keri is currently an Environmental Specialist at Hilcorp (Anchorage, AK).
Dr. Morey Burnham
Dr. Burnham graduated in 2014 with a Ph.D. in the Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Managementat Utah State University where Dr. Zhao Ma was a faculty member prior to joining Purdue. Dr. Burnham’s dissertation research focused on climate change perception and adaptation among smallholder farmers in China. Dr. Burnham is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminology at Idaho State University.
Jamie graduated in 2014 with a M.S. in the Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Managementat Utah State University where Dr. Zhao Ma was a faculty member prior to joining Purdue. Jamie’s thesis research focused on 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 Human Dimensions Lab (December 2014-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 Human Dimensions 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 was a full-time Research Assistant in the Human Dimensions 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 was the Human Dimensions Specialist at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Seth graduated in 2012 with a M.S. in the Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Managementat Utah State University where Dr. Zhao Ma was a faculty member prior to joining Purdue. Seth’s thesis research focused on 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
|Emilie was pursuing a B.S. in Aquatic Sciences with an emphasis in Marine & Freshwater Biology, and a minor in Environmental Politics & Policy (graduation: May 2022). Emilie assisted with several research projects in the lab, including one focused on coupled human-natural systems, and another on improved seed technology. Upon graduation, Emilie continued to pursue a career in environmental law.|
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 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 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.
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.
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 graduated in 2018 with degree in Sustainable Biomaterials Process and Product Designing and Industrial Engineering Technology.
Morgan graduated in 2018 with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology. She currently works in the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue.