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.

Summer Boot Camp Recap

The 2017 IGERT cohort kicked off its fellowship program in August with an orientation on the island of Nantucket and a Boston Harbor “boot camp” that gave fellows a chance to work together in teams learning about environmental challenges facing coastal communities in Massachusetts.

The Nantucket orientation provided a taste of IGERT’s transdisciplinary approach to solving environmental problems by immersing fellows in the cultural and natural resources of the island. They met with key stakeholders, experts, and locals to gain a better understanding of its challenges, successes, and opportunities for the future. Staying at the UMass Boston Field Station, they learned about the island’s diverse and complex ecology—one of the primary engines of Nantucket’s economy and an undeniable source of pride and beauty for islanders and tourists alike—and about Nantucket’s whaling history, which has shaped the socio-economic and environmental landscape from the 18th century to today.

Fellows worked in teams, drawing on their diverse expertise and perspectives, to identify challenges facing the island and identify a development path to 2050 that is equitable and sustainable. They later fleshed out these initial ideas into proposals to share with Nantucket stakeholders.

Comparing the group to “an environmental special ops team,” IGERT fellow Jack Whitacre said: “the combination of fast-paced, long hours and different disciplines lent itself to an atmosphere of creativity and intellectual rigor. My biggest take away was that one can’t ‘solve’ a problem without understanding the problem itself. Therefore, in some ways, the problem contains the solution.”

The following week, a three-day Boston Harbor Boot Camp was an opportunity to expand students’ horizons, exposing them to the full spectrum of environmental issues and research in the Boston area. Guided by UMass Boston faculty and graduate students, fellows donned waders to take streamflow measurements in Lower Mills, counted invertebrates in Pope’s Pond, visited the Blue Hills Weather Observatory, flew a drone, trekked through a salt marsh on the Neponset River, sampled Boston Harbor water, and dissected mussels on Lovells Island. Based on this fieldwork, fellows chose mini research projects that they’ll be working on in the coming weeks.

The Boot Camp ended with an expert panel discussion about the history of the Boston Harbor cleanup, its current status, and the future of the harbor and surrounding communities. The talks gave fellows a view into the coastal community that UMass Boston is a part of, and the work that has already been done to make it a healthy ecosystem. IGERT fellow Michael Cole said that the program’s solution-oriented approach “will continue to push our research beyond the classroom, beyond theory, and into the policy-making arena.”


IGERT students from UMB went down to New York City to contribute to Submerge Marine Science Festival. The event was held on a beautiful day at Hudson River Park with 6,500 people in attendance. UMass Boston students lead an activity that challenged people to make a “phytoplankton” out of art supplies that would neither sink nor float, but instead be neutrally buoyant. This was intended to represent a phytoplankton living in the photic zone. Many kids and even some adults took on the challenge and a few succeeded in making a neutrally buoyant “phytoplankton.”


Hack the Machine

Inspired by a presentation on VR by Microsoft’s Principal Business Strategist and Architect, Jack generated a novel concept for humanitarian assistance in coastal disasters and forwarded the research results to the event organizer, Commander Zac Staples, Director of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Cyber Warfare.


I’ve written a piece after attending a symposium held by the U.S. Navy and MIT focusing on new technologies for coastal disaster response. First, I learned that humanitarian “solutions” can sometimes bring their own problems and ongoing dialogue is essential to trustworthy disaster response. Second, a literature review revealed that evidence and consent are two essential drivers when introducing any new technology that claims to make people safer. I think the combination of new technologies mixed with personal experience will generate a lot of positive discussion in the environmental response and security spheres.” -Jack Whitacre, Cohort 2017