Nelson Institute alumni lead Integrated Land Management workshop at Cornell

June 25, 2018

Nina Trautmann Chaopricha, Land Resources MS 2007 and Environment and Resources PhD 2013, Nelson Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Steven Wolf, Land Resources PhD 1996, Nelson Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jenny Kao-Kniffin, Land Resources PhD 2007, Nelson Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Collaboration is key at the Nelson Institute, where faculty and students are encouraged to take an integrated approach to research and education. For Nelson Institute alum Nina Trautmann Chaopricha, the collaborative nature of the Nelson Institute left a lasting impression, inspiring her to seek out new ways to connect students, faculty, and experts from across the world on sustainability initiatives.

As a program coordinator at Cornell University, Chaopricha has worked with Professor Wendy Wolford and other faculty to develop an initiative on Integrated Land Management to build graduate student knowledge about integrative research as well as create connections across campus and beyond. The initiative is funded through a three-year United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Higher Education Challenge grant that Chaopricha helped to secure, along with support from Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

The initiative engages an annual interdisciplinary cohort of 30 Cornell graduate students who attend a week-long workshop to discuss the latest theories and approaches of various fields in relation to land management—and to discuss the opportunities and challenges of doing integrated research. Several of the students then continue into summer research internships with non-profits around the world on projects ranging from mitigating harmful algae blooms in New York to assisting farmer-led agroecological research in Malawi.

“At UW-Madison, there were many opportunities for me to attend department seminars around campus and take classes and do research with students from many disciplines,” said Chaopricha. “As I learned through the Nelson Institute, these types of interactions are key to building connections and learning strategies to tackle global sustainability problems. I experienced first-hand through my dissertation research on deeply buried soil carbon with UW Professor Erika Marin-Spiotta how collaborating with people from other fields and institutions enabled us to solve a research mystery. It has been exciting for me to get to help jumpstart a new Cornell initiative that enables groups of grad students to similarly explore the benefits of integrated work.”

Two other Nelson Institute alumni—both now associate professors at Cornell—assisted with the initiative this year. Steven Wolf co-taught this year’s workshop and organized two summer research internships with The Keystone Foundation in India. Jenny Kao-Kniffin led a workshop session on the importance of soil microbiology for land management research and practice, including implications for sustainability and resiliency. Chaopricha knew Kao-Kniffin while at the Nelson Institute and met Wolf at Cornell.

Chaopricha said it has been especially rewarding to see the interdisciplinary connections that participants have developed during the workshop. Several of the students have personally expressed to her how grateful they were for this opportunity to meet others outside their department.

“Overall, the initiative is about the importance of connections,” said Chaopricha. “It’s about meeting new colleagues, becoming aware of the methods and tools that others use, and learning strategies to use integrated approaches to overcoming our biggest global challenges.”

This summer, Chaopricha looks forward to beginning a new job coordinating the new Cornell China Center and is excited to continue connecting stakeholders through cross-campus themes, including one on sustainable development.