Dr. Zhao Ma

Dr. Zhao MaI am an Associate 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.


Current graduate students


Meagan Rathjen

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

Project description: Meagan’s research is determining 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)

Email: mrathjen@purdue.edu

Brooke McWherter

Brooke McWherterBrooke 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

Email: bmcwhert@purdue.edu


Taylor Stinchcomb

Taylor Stinchcomb

Taylor is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project description: Taylor’s research will investigate the attitudes, perceptions, and satisfaction of stakeholder groups towards white-tailed deer populations and management approaches across Indiana. This research is part of an Integrated Deer Management Project with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.


  • M.S. in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK (2017)
  • B.A. in Environmental Studies, Reed College, Portland, OR (2014)

Email: tstinchc@purdue.edu

Becca Nixon

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

Project description: Becca’s research investigates water governance, river-based livelihood strategies, and natural resource decision making to adapt to social-ecological change at the household, community, and regional scales on the Kabul and Swat rivers in Pakistan.


  • M.S. in Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University, Ames, IA (2017)
  • B.A. in Education, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI (2011)

Email: nixon17@purdue.edu

Rebekah Dickens Ohara

Rebekah Dickens OharaRebekah 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)

Email: rebekah@akakaforests.org or oharar@purdue.edu

Landon Young

Landon YoungLandon is pursuing a PhD in Civil Engineering as part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering Graduate Program.

Project description: Landon’s research investigates 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)

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.

Email: lgyoung@purdue.edu

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/landonyoung/

Jake Hawes

Jake HawesJake is currently pursuing a MS in Natural Resource Social Science as part of the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering Graduate Program.

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

Education: B.S. in Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2017)

Email: hawes0@purdue.edu or jasonkhawes@gmail.com

Jenn Domenech

Jenn DomenechJenn is currently pursuing a MS 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 assesses factors shaping resident’s adoption of water quality improvement practices across different types of landownership in northwestern Indiana.

Education: B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI (2014)

Email: jdomenec@purdue.edu or jenndomenech@gmail.com

Kimberly Ordonez

Kimberly will be starting a MS in Natural Resource Social Science in January 2018.

Project description: Kimberly’s research will examine 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)

Email: kordonez@purdue.edu


Post-doctoral research associate


Anna Erwin

Anna ErwinDr. Erwin is 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).

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)

Email: erwin9@purdue.edu

Website: http://www.annaerwin.com/

Ruxandra (Rux) Popovici

Information coming soon

Becky Barak

Becky BarakDr. Barak is 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 studies biodiversity and restoration in the tallgrass prairie. Her post-doctoral research project focuses 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) 

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


Undergraduate research assistants

Marly Beck

Marley BeckMarly Beck is a junior studying Sustainable Food and Farming Systems as well as Global Studies (expected graduation: May 2020). 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 is a senior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Science with a concentration in policy. She is involved in environmental organizations around campus as well as intramural sports. Kasha works on the Improved Seed Technology research for the lab, and will attend law school after graduation to become an environmental justice or energy lawyer.

Iris McFarlin

Iris McFarlinIris 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 is a Senior majoring in Natural Resource & Environmental Science (expected graduation: May 2018). He is actively involved in the Purdue Student Government (PSG), and is serving 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. After graduation, Austin hopes to start graduate school in environmental social sciences.

Priyanka Shankar

Priyanka is a Senior majoring in Sustainable Biomaterials Process and Product Designing and Industrial Engineering Technology (expected graduation: May 2018). After graduation, Priyanka hopes to work in an environmental or sustainability consulting firm.

Morgan Grey

Morgan is a Junior majoring in Wildlife (expected graduation: May 2018). After graduation, Morgan hopes to work in an environmental or sustainability consulting firm. 

Visiting scholars and students


Zelin Wang

Zelin WangZelin 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)

Email: wang3732@purdue.edu or zelin.wang@foxmail.com


Former Lab Members

Dr. Mysha Clarke

Mysha Clarke


Mysha was a Ph.D. student in teh 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.



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/

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.

Keri Iles

Keri was a MS 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.

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.

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.

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.