Continued Research in Rwanda

Cohort 2017 Fellow Candace Famiglietti is planning to continue her research in Rwanda, looking at the politics of innovation and the role of entrepreneurship in sustainable state development. This research comes at a time when the development paradigm is elevating the role of the private sector and science and technology in sustainable development – a framework that considers social cohesion, environmental protection, and economic growth as mutually supporting. State-led initiatives for poverty reduction are establishing Rwanda as a hot spot for startups and venture capital in the African continent, leading to high economic growth (8% per annum), poverty reduction, and increased equality (World Bank, Rwanda Overview 2017). Her research seeks to understand if and how Rwanda is fostering a national system of truly sustainable innovation and development, and if so, can this knowledge be transferred to other nation’s development models.

6th Annual Environmental Research Colloquium

IGERT Fellows participated in the 6th Annual Environmental Research Colloquium, which took place on April 18, 2018 at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB). The event was organized by the UMB School for the Environment (SFE) and invited graduate and undergraduate students from all over New England to present their research, network, and meet with employers.

The Colloquium featured a “Women in Science” panel discussion with four women leaders in the environmental field:

Vandana M. Rao, PhD, Director of Water Policy, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Indrani Ghosh, PhD, Senior Professional at Kleinfelder
Julia Knisel, Coastal Shoreline & Floodplain Manager, MA Office of Coastal Zone Management
Mia Mansfield, Climate Ready Boston Program Manager with the City of Boston Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space

Twelve environmental employers, among which MassDEP, Neponset River Watershed Association, Massachusetts Sea Grant, USDA Forest Service, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and Triumvirate, joined the Colloquium to interview and hire students for summer employment and full-time positions.

Fifty students interested in environmental research that ranges from local to global, e.g., from coastal resilience right here in Boston Harbor to climate change impacts on coral reef ecosystems in Australia, presented their research at the Colloquium. All presentations — posters and oral — were evaluated by a team of SFE professors. Students won certificates and prizes for best presentations. In the graduate presenter category, the top three prizes were awarded to IGERT Fellows: Shannon Davis, Christine San Antonio, and Catie Tobin. Congratulations to the winners!

Shannon Davis, 1st prize
Christine San Antonio, 2nd prize
Catie Tobin, 3rd prize (Pictured from left to right: Kelly Luis, Catie Tobin, Maria Petrova, Sean McNally)

Photo Blog: IGERT in the Land of a Thousand Hills

Spring Semester 2018: In preparation for their trip to Rwanda, IGERT Coasts and Communities cohorts 2016 and 2017 spent the beginning of the semester learning about Issues in the Horn of Africa. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 10th: After a short but exciting detour to Uganda, students landed in the Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Parfait Gasana of Yale University joined the Coasts and Communities group. Parfait is a native Rwandan and president of the Kigali Reading Center. His guidance and hospitality throughout the trip would prove invaluable to our experience. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Also joining the group were adventurers Eliza and Annie Cash (Of the Dean David Cash clan). (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 11th: We were lucky to have breakfast with Beth Kaplan from the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management at the University of Rwanda. We are excited to share that Professor Kaplan is now a research affiliate with UMass Boston! (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 11th: Driving through the Southern Province to Butare we got our first look at the Land of A Thousand Hills. (Photo Credit: Delilah Bethel)
Cohort 2016 students Emily Moothart, Sean McNally, and Catie Tobin filmed each adventure throughout the trip! Their videos can be found here (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 11th: IGERT’s first Rwandan adventure included a canopy walk at the Nyungwe Forest National Park, bordering the Southern and Western Provinces of Rwanda. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Though the group’s tour guide had grown up in the park, all guides at Nyungwe are required to complete years of training in Environmental Conservation and Education. Many were inspired by the passion, communication, and knowledge of the park’s educators. (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 11th: Buses made their way to the Eastern part of the country, landing at Lake Kivu where we were awoken in the morning by the harmonies of fishermen singing as they returned from their night fishing. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, borders the Democratic Republic of Congo and sits on the Albertine Rift. It is one of the three known lakes that undergo limnic eruptions as a result of underwater volcanic eruptions of methane and carbon dioxide. (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 12th: Students had the unique opportunity to visit a methane extraction barge at the center of Lake Kivu. This one-of-a-kind operation, run by KivuWatt, extracts gases from Lake Kivu, “cleans” them, and uses them to produce electricity. For more about the project check out the KivuWatt Website (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 12th: With a heavy heart the group bid farewell to their new friends at Kivu Lodge. In only their 8th month of operation, the friendly staff at the lodge sent off each traveler with full bellies and fond memories. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 13th: After returning to Kigali, students attended meetings in Rwanda’s beautiful capital city. The group started the day with Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda, Phil Cotton. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
The pride and enthusiasm for collaboration could not be ignored as Dean David Cash and Vice Chancellor Phil Cotton signed a Memorandum of Understanding between institutions. This document paves the way for future collaboration between University of Rwanda and University of Massachusetts Boston. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 13th: The group also met with Etienne Ruyebana, Principal of the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Rwanda. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Evening of March 13th: IGERT Coasts and Communities hosted an event similar to Science Cafes at Kigali’s Impact Hub. The event, called “Green Drinks” is an ongoing meetup open to all environmentally-passionate locals. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Dean Cash gave an electric speech on the food-water-energy nexus and creating win-win-win situations in environmental sustainability. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 14th: Students visited the Rugezi Wetlands, the headwaters of the Nile River in the Buberuka Highlands of Rwanda’s Northern Province. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Environmental Officials educated students on current efforts in wetlands restoration and conservation. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
For all of us, this was our first time seeing wetlands at such a high altitude! (7,000 ft) (Photo Credit: Delilah Bethel)
The Rugezi Wetlands are home and breeding grounds for the endangered Grey Crowned Crane. (Photo Credit: Hannah Stroud)


At this point we were super efficient at taking group photos! (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
An example of the compassionate spirit of Rwanda, community members helped remove our bus from a daunting mud patch on our drive back from the wetlands. (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 15th: Breakfast came with a treat when Olivier Nsengimana visited the group. Olivier established the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association. His work with the Grey Crowned Crane has aided in the species’ recovery. He is a National Geographic Explorer and recipient of the Rolex Award. For more information of Olivier check out this video about his research (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
March 15th: The group also visited with Parfait’s childhood friend Aphrodice Mutangana at K-Lab. K-Lab provides free space and access to materials for innovative thinkers from a variety of disciplines. The project sees up to 40,000 community members per year and acts similar to a think tank. For more information about K-Lab check out their website (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Photo Credit: Emily Moothart
March 16th: We were inspired by the ongoing initiatives at REMA: the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
Students had the chance to share their ideas for collaboration with REMA and other environmental management agencies. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 17th: Travelers checked off bucket list sightings on an African Safari at Akagera National Park. (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
Akagera National Park in North Eastern Rwanda is the largest protected wetland in Africa and shares a border with Tanzania. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
In an effort to accommodate and create space for returning refugees, Akagera National Park’s 2,500 sq. km of protected land were reduced to 1,200 as Rwandans returned to their country after the genocide. (Photo Credit: Hannah Stroud)
The group breaks for lunch with their Safari drivers. (Photo Credit: Emily Moothart)
March 18th: On our last day we had the once-in-a lifetime opportunity of visiting Fabien Akimana’s studio. (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
Fabien is an accomplished painter who’s work can be found at the Hotel Milles Collines, and now in many of our homes! Fabien’s unique style captures the creativity and endurance of Rwanda. (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
Professor Maria Ivanova came home with this piece entitled “Happiness No. 7” (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)
Students were surprised with the opportunity to paint a collaborative mural which has since been shipped to UMass! (Photo Credit: Bob Chen)








2015 & 2016 Cohort Updates

Amanda Tokash-Peters. “I work with mosquitoes and am simultaneously horrified by mosquitoes. They’re gross. There’s no denying that. They spread some of the nastiest diseases one could think of. Gross. Before leaving for Rwanda, my nervous mind was hyper-fixated on this. My work with mosquitoes and disease made me a bit leery prior to traveling abroad to sub-Saharan Africa, which sees 91% of global malaria cases annually. As someone who had never traveled abroad before, combined with about a dozen vaccines and medications needed prior to the trip, I was a little bit too nervous about traveling. Anyone traveling with me could have told you this- this was not a secret to anyone. So how on Earth did I wind up jumping on a motorcycle to enjoy the twists and turns of the hills (“streets”) in Kigali after a solo trip to Kimironko market following a series of meetings about coming back for more mosquito work?
            Traveling to Rwanda with the IGERT Coasts and Communities program changed my life, personally and professionally. I got to see firsthand that it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to (and some of the best coffee too). I saw the vibrant, kind, and hard-working people who would become my collaborators and ultimately friends. I saw a country at a tipping point into greatness, with environmental programs that the US could certainly learn from. I also saw firsthand the difference that my dissertation work could have for the people of Rwanda. At even the slightest mention of my work with mosquitoes, peoples’ ears immediately perked up. Mosquito-borne disease is a very real, tangible problem in Rwanda, and something that most people have dealt with either directly or with a loved one. Seeing this and hearing stories from people we met on the trip, it had finally hit me that, Yes, mosquitoes are gross, awful, horrible organisms, but I can do something about the problems that they leave in their wake. I finally realized that my work on mosquito microbiomes was directly applicable here, in this beautiful place. Sometime in the coming months, I hope to return and sample mosquitoes extensively in Rwanda through my collaboration with the University of Rwanda. Through my work stateside and in Rwanda, I hope to find probiotics that can be used to mitigate pathogen transmission in mosquitoes. Dissertation work aside, I am eager to get back to the Land of a Thousand Hills. In some strange way it feels like a homecoming. To think that I felt so nervous before seems ridiculous now. While I have a lot of planning to do before continuing my collaborations in Rwanda, I am ready to jump on a plane and head back now. I certainly was bitten by some kind of bug- just not a mosquito.”
Catie Tobin. My work focuses on the interaction between oysters and microfibers. Microfibers are the dominant form of microplastic pollution in the environment. This summer will be a busy, yet exciting time! I will be primarily working in the laboratory where I will be exposing oyster larvae to microfibers of varying concentrations. Additionally, I will be finishing analyzing water and adult oyster samples collected last summer in Boston Harbor. The combination of data collected last summer and this summer will assist me in the evaluation of social preferences towards oysters and how that may change as a result of the impacts of microfiber pollution.
Emily Moothart. Congrats on graduation, Emily!
Kelly Luis. 2016 Fellow Kelly Luis has been awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship, which will support her as she finishes her PhD.
Patrick Sheldon. Patrick passed his qualifying exams this Spring– congrats!
Peter Boucher.
Sean McNally. Sean will be continuing work stemming from his involvement/experience from the innovation clinic last year working with to further develop the Massachusetts Shellfish Initiative (MSI) with the Scott Soares, the coordinating consultant for the MSI, in partnership with the Massachusetts Aquaculture Alliance (MAA), Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance (CCCFA), and the Nature Conservancy (TNC). In addition to Sean’s work with the MSI he is also working with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF) on the Massachusetts Aquaculture Permitting Plan (MAPP) under an Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission Grant (ASMFC).
Shannon Davis.