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.


Achievements: Dissertation Defenses

Jeremiah O. Asaka, pictured here collecting water samples from River Ewaso Nyiro as part of his dissertation fieldwork in Northwestern Kenya.

Jeremiah O. Asaka, Global Governance and Human Security PhD and 2014 IGERT Fellow, successfully defended his dissertation on December 6th, 2017. Jeremiah’s research covered transformations in conservation governance and outcomes for human security: the case of Kenya’s Northern rangelands. Jeremiah’s transdisciplinary dissertation explored the link between biodiversity conservation and the security dimensions of human well-being. The dissertation’s analysis is premised on a juxtaposition of global governance, norm diffusion, human security, and gender theoretical frameworks. Jeremiah’s research seeks to understand change and continuity in conservation governance and the implications for human security in indigenous communities. Congratulations Jeremiah!



Alexander Metzger presenting a talk on participatory modeling for climate change adaptation management as part of the Annual School for the Environment Research Colloquium at UMass Boston.

Alexander Metzger, School for the Environment PhD and 2014 IGERT Fellow, will present and defend his dissertation entitled “Models that matter: using participatory FCM to integrate mental models into an adaptive co-management process.” on Friday February 23, 2018 from 1:00PM – 2:00PM in the Integrated Science Complex room ISC 5300.

Abstract: Boston, Massachusetts has periodically experienced damage and negative impacts from storms and flooding events, and is currently planning for a more hazardous future due climate change. Contemporary approaches often rely on vulnerability and resilience to describe system capacities, and use adaptation as a means of adjusting its trajectory. The adaptive co-management (ACM) framework acknowledges the importance of integrating stakeholder mental models, or the diverse array of internally-held understandings and dynamic representations of a system, into the decision-making process. Linking stakeholders in collaborative problem-solving, mental models become a wealth of valuable information for shared learning and adaptation, and an opportunity to understand the diversity of perspectives that define effectiveness and equitability. However, several obstacles emerge from the mismatch of decision-maker perspectives, and tools are needed to better structure the utilization of mental models. Fuzzy cognitive mapping (FCM) is a growing approach in the field of participatory modeling that could fill these needs. FCM allows “mapping” of mental models as a web of concepts and weighted relationships that represent stakeholder perspectives, knowledge, and understandings. In this dissertation, we present our research on the use of participatory FCM to better understand variation in mental models among flood managers in Boston, MA and discover opportunities for social learning and collaboration. We first discuss our typology of approaches to participatory FCM research created through literature review. This typology guided our participatory modeling process with organizations involved in mitigation and adaptation at different jurisdictional scales. We then discuss our novel method of knowledge classification, and findings on the variation in flood manager perspectives by jurisdictional scale. Next, we discuss our analysis of individual FCM’s, which we used to identify boundary objects and bridging organizations that could facilitate learning and collaboration among Boston’s flood managers. Last, we discuss findings of a participant focus group in which participants react to the findings and completed a collaborative modeling exercise.


Teaching Experiences

Michael Cole, Global Governance PhD Student and 2017 IGERT Fellow, spent the January term introducing students to the complex environment of world politics. In the online introductory course entitled “US in World Affairs”, students learn about the evolution of the international system from interwar period through today. The course also explores the different approaches to explaining foreign policy formulation and outcomes within the distinct paradigms of international relations. The course was offered through the University of New Hampshire under Dr. Alynna Lyon, and was an extension of Michael’s teaching experience in the field of world politics.

Courtney Humphries, Environmental Science PhD Student and 2017 IGERT Fellow, was recently accepted to teach a 5-week course at UMass Boston’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The course will be taught as part of the OLLI Scholars program, a membership-based community dedicated to lifelong learning. The course, entitled “The Past, Present, and Future of Boston Harbor”, will give students an overview of the harbor’s natural history and ecology, history of urban development and land-building, changing uses of the harbor islands, harbor cleanup efforts, future planning and climate change risks.

Winter World Travels

Elaine Montes, Environmental Biology PhD Student and 2017 IGERT fellow, traveled to the Galapagos Islands for research on Darwin’s Finches. She is currently investigating the connection between urbanization and finch food preference, behavioral changes, and longevity. From January 4th to the 29th, Elaine worked with colleagues from Norway, Ecuador, and the UK to band, measure, and collect blood samples for later analysis. Read her blog here.

Emily Moothart, Environmental Scientist and 2016 Associate IGERT Fellow, presented her research on the importance of urban parks ancoastal communities at the Global Congress of the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN), which was held January 24th -26th in Santiago, Chile. Emily’s talk was titled From Communities to Countries: Visionary Conservation in a Changing World. While in Chile, Emily also had a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of backpacking Patagonia.

Brianna Shaughnessy, Environmental Biology PhD Student and 2017 IGERT Fellow, visited the “SubeLab” at the Esación de Coserta de Investigaciones Marinas (ECIM) in Las Cruces, Chile. While visiting ECIM, Brianna was hosted by fish biologist and ecologist Alejandro Prez-Matus. Alé is a long-time collaborator of Jarrett Byrnes’ Lab at UMass Boston. With the help of Alé and his dive team, Brianna collected standardized data on Central Chilean kelp forests to be added to the growing open-source database for the Kelp Ecosystem Ecology Network (KEEN), a key tool for performing comparative ecological research on vital kelp forests. At ECIM Brianna also presented on the development of KEEN’s network goals, research, and standardized protocols, and attended a symposium on modern interdisciplinary research in Chilean Ecology. She was fortunate to meet with many Chilean ecologists, including Sergio Navarrete and Evie Wieters.

Photo by Alejandro Perez-Matus

Jack Whitacre, Global Governance PhD Student and 2017 IGERT Fellow, visited Tromso, Norway and the Lofoten Islands to study Arctic ecosystems, policy, culture, and history. While traveling by boat above the Arctic Circle, the group visited coastal communities from Norway’s farming and fishing tradition. At the Arctic Frontiers conference in downtown Tromso, Jack presented a poster on Iceland and the maritime cyber security of exports. Jack’s winter travel highlighted the benefits of networking across fields and connecting with leaders from a variety of backgrounds. It opened new doors for future collaboration and appreciation for global environmental issues.