Earth Institute Student Research Showcase 2016

Earth Institute Student Research Showcase 2016

The Earth Institute, Columbia University is committed to showcasing student research in the areas of environment and sustainable development. The Earth Institute brings together undergraduate, graduate and PhD students at the annual Earth Institute Student Research Conference. Students discuss their unique research experiences of working to understand and solve pressing environmental and sustainable development issues.

All of the projects are conducted by students who have received support, guidance or funding through an Earth Institute affiliated education or student program including a travel grant, internship, or research assistantship from the Institute.




Heidi Cunnick

Heidi Cunnick is an MA candidate at Columbia’s E3B Conservation Biology Program. Her work takes her to the wilds of the southern New Jersey Pine Barrens, where she is studying the plant life history strategies and population demographics of a rare endangered wetland plant species.



Yuki Haba

Yuki Haba is a first year master’s student in the Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology department. He graduated from the University of Tokyo, Japan and started to pursue his MA degree in Conservation Biology. His interests primarily lie in the genetics and genomics of animal behavior. Currently, he studies the genetic architecture underlying behaviors in Taiwanese burying beetles.



Alixandra Prybyla

Alixandra Prybyla, CC ’18, is majoring in Environmental Biology. She hails from Cleveland, Ohio, where her love of the natural world was cultivated in the forests of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and she serves as the president of the Columbia University Environmental Biology Society. She began her paleomammalogical research in high school under the auspices of Darin Croft at Case Western Reserve University, and contributed to two project presented as posters at the 2013 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting. She hopes to return to this conference in the fall, presenting work she has been conducting at the American Museum of Natural History under John Flynn and Z.J. Tseng. She began this work as a volunteer in 2014, continued at the museum’s Research Experience for Undergraduate program in 2015, and continues to explore her love of ancient Carnivorans to the present day.



Andrew Quebbeman

Andrew Quebbeman is interested in the relationship between soil microbial and plant communities within the context of biogeochemical cycles. This includes spatial patterns of association between plants and soil microbes, functional differences between soil microbial communities, and the role of aboveground-belowground interactions in biogeochemical processes.


Climate Change


Dylan Adler

Dylan Adler is pursuing a Masters of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Franklin and Marshall College. Dylan is interested in the intersection of science and government policy, with a specific attention to climate change. He worked as an intern with the Columbia Climate Center as part of the Polar Education Partnership.



Nicolas Cerkez

Nicolas Cerkez was born in Switzerland and moved to the US after finishing high school. He originally studied acting but then, after having worked as an actor in NYC for some time, changed his mind and started studying economics. He will start a MSc in Economics in September 2016 and plans to get a PhD afterwards. His research interests lie in development and environmental economics and macroeconomics.



Nikita Perumal

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Nikita Perumal is a senior undergraduate in the Dual BA Program between Columbia University and Sciences Po. At the Euro-American campus of Sciences Po Paris in Reims, France, she received a BA in the social sciences, with specializations in law and political science. At Columbia, she is currently completing a degree in human rights with a specialization in sustainable development. Nikita is particularly passionate about environmental and climate justice. Her senior thesis, which involved fieldwork in Port Vila, Vanuatu, is on a human rights-based approach to climate-induced migration. In addition to her work at the Sabin Center, Nikita works as a teaching assistant to the Workshop for Sustainable Development and organizes with Columbia Divest for Climate Justice.



Iliana Salazar-Dodge

Iliana Salazar-­Dodge is a senior studying Sustainable Development and Mathematics. She is a climate justice organizer who has been campaigning for fossil fuel divestment at Columbia University since her first year in college. In looking at potential avenues for reinvestment, she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and did research on various methods for financing sustainable community businesses. As an Global Fellow in the Sustainable Development Program, she interned with La Base, a nonprofit organization which provides just loans to worker owned cooperatives and seeks to expand the solidarity economy.



Stephanie Schmiege

Stephanie Schmiege is a first-year Ph.D. student in Columbia's department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology and at the New York Botanical Garden where she is studying plant ecophysiology and specifically the response of tropical conifers to climate change and drought in Vietnam. She graduated from Bowdoin College in 2010 with a BA in Biology and French and a minor in Visual Arts. For two and a half years she taught elementary school science to children in the small town of Bukoba in rural Tanzania, East Africa. Her students’ eagerness to learn and explore has inspired her to continue to pursue her interest in ecology and plant physiology in graduate school. For several years she worked as a technician, first at Duke University and then at the University of New Mexico exploring carbon flux and the effect of tree mortality on ecosystem processes.



Sarah Cronell

Sarah Cronell is a first year Master’s student in the Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B) department at Columbia University with an expected graduation date of May 2017. The Earth Institute Travel Grant has allowed her to complete her field research in Canada for her Master’s Thesis titled “Population Dynamics of Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima): Impacts of Increased Predation Related to Climate Change”.



Emmalina Glinskis

Emmalina Glinskis is a junior at Columbia College studying Environmental Science. Her interests include global biogeochemistry, hydrology and water resources, and remote sensing & landscape analysis. Her main focus is on applied science for sustainable development issues—primarily in land and resource management scenarios in the tropics. She also enjoys science communication and journalism, and has worked for the Ministry of the Environment in Lithuania, NGO Baltic Environmental Forum, and Chicago community organization Blacks in Green. She spent a summer researching bioenergy and land use change at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Library and now holds research positions at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) studying agroecology in India and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory exploring deep ocean sediment tracers of global climate change. In her free time, Emmalina loves listening to and writing about contemporary music in New York City and rollerblading around Brooklyn.



Xuanyue He

Xuanyue He is a Master in Public Administration student concentrating in International Finance at Columbia SIPA, meanwhile, she also took several Energy and Environment courses. She is a Chinese who has also spent approximately 12 years in Japan. With previous experiences in IBD and consulting firms in both Tokyo and Shanghai, in which she investigated several heavy industry and technology companies that are involved in clean and renewable energy, she is interested in breakthrough innovations that will boost future economic growth as well as enhance our sustainable development goal in these fields.



Xiangyu Qu

Xiangyu Qu was born in China, got Bachelor of Arts in Economics in Nanjing and had abundant working experience as Investment Banking Analyst in Citigroup Shanghai, and as Renewable Energy Research Assistant in UN Geneva. He specializes in dealing with the financial aspects of mergers and acquisitions, promotion and underwriting of share issues of energy companies and expansion / diversification of established energy companies. He is currently enrolled at School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, working on his MPA degree with the concentration of Environment and Energy. Having lived in Asia, Africa, Europe and America, he sets an ambitious goal of working for a planet free of poverty and pollution.



Lucas Vargas Zepetello

Originally from San Francisco and coming to Columbia hoping to be an applied physics major, Lucas Vargas Zepetello became interested in atmospheric science after Hurricane Sandy. While an undergraduate, he has worked at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and at Columbia’s plasma physics laboratory. Inaddition, last summer he lived in a trailer park in New Mexico and did fluid dynamics research at Los Alamos National Lab. While in New York, he can be spotted riding his bike around the neighborhood while the weather is nice. He hopes to continue learning more about atmospheric science in graduate school, which he will begin next fall after what will hopefully be a relaxing and fun summer vacation.



Liyang Xu

Liyang Xu is a second- year SIPA student and vice president of Columbia University Chinese Scholars and Students Association. Liyang has been the project director in International Universities Innovation Alliance (IUIA). Previously, Liyang worked for Harvard Economics Department as a research assistant in 2012. Liyang also worked for DIH Technologies Co., a premier technology & application platform leader in Rehab & Sports Medicine (RSM) and Intelligent Medication & Supply (IMS) businesses as a project manager. In 2014, Liyang founded an in-home care start-up, aiming to provide professional in-home care services to the elderly in China. This start-up project was the finalist of SIPA’s Challenge Grant, the finalist of Columbia Business School Start-up Challenge contest and the winner of Engineering School Ignition Grant.


Community Development


Suvekshya Aryal

Suvekshya Aryal is a second year Epidemiology and Global Health student at the Mailman School. She attended Salem College, North Carolina, for her BSc in 2011. Before that she was in Nepal, where she was born and raised, and is a citizen of. She is a Mailman Scholar, and Earth Institute Research Travel Grant recipient. Her research interests in public health lie in the field of maternal and child nutrition, infectious diseases, and aspects of mental health in global health.



Liz Orozco

Liz Orozco is a current Columbia College senior majoring in sustainable development and working as a research assistant at the Columbia Water Center. Throughout her three years at Columbia, Liz has dedicated much of her time to Columbia's chapter of Active Minds, a national non-profit that works to facilitate discussion about mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. This past summer, Liz worked as a GIS intern for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. In the future, Liz would like to aid global communities most vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters.



Alexandre Tourre

Alexandre Tourre is a Public Affairs student with 5 years of M&A, Strategy and Financial consulting behind him and an itch for solving public policy problems with efficient and innovative solutions. After completing engineering studies in Computer Science & Energy, he worked for 5 years at PwC before joining Columbia SIPA's MPA program to thrust his transition into the realm of people who try to make the world a better place. His areas of interest include technology for development, technology for governance, anti tax evasion policies, anti money laundering regulation and impact investing (mostly in Africa, Middle East and Europe). In his spare time, he channels his energy and creativity into programming, development and research side projects. He is currently launching a solar asset financing and distribution company and hoping to enable an Internet of Things revolution in crowded urban spaces.



Kirsty Gray

Kirsty Gray is a second year MPA student at SIPA specializing in Economic Development. She is particularly interested in financial inclusion and the role technology can play in improving access to financial services for the unbanked. The Earth Institute scholarship enabled her to conduct valuable research on the use of mobile money in the informal sector in Kenya. This built on her experience interning for the Millennium Villages Project during the last academic year and a summer spent in Zambia working for a dynamic mobile money enterprise called Zoona.



Sarah Al-Khayyal

A graduating Senior studying Sustainable Development, Sarah Al-Khayyal is first and foremost a creative problem solver and human-centered designer—but you’re more likely to know her as the health and food blogger over at Primal Bites. Sarah is also a competitive Powerlifter and Strongwoman athlete, and has been spotlighted on Strongwoman Radio, Nourished Podcast, and Paleo Magazine, and featured as a speaker for the Women’s Strength Summit. Sarah aspires to utilize human-centered-design and sustainability principles to co-create resilient communities, and to curate community building initiatives that also bolster equitable economic growth and restore the environment. With a strong bias towards action, Sarah hopes to unlock latent creativity and leadership potential in others in order to cultivate a culture of proactive citizenship. Sarah’s dream job is interaction + experience design of public spaces—she loves to geek out about the revitalization of underutilized urban paces, placemaking projects, and streetscape improvements. Equipped with a creative mind and critical eye, Sarah strives to steward place and shepherd change.



Surabhi Bajpai

Surabhi Bajpai is a first year MPA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development. Prior to coming to SIPA, she worked on one of the largest citizen-led assessments in the world, to measure learning outcomes, majorly to understand the educational landscape in rural India post her two year teaching experience as a Teach For India fellow. She is passionate about rural development and enjoy traveling to the field. Bajpai's current research focuses on assessing the impact of citizen-led assessment, particularly in India, derived from her personal field experiences, her former supervisor’s inputs and the outcome of a rural development class she took at SIPA



Jennifer Ching

Jennifer Ching’s background is in project management and environmental policy, having worked at the Green Climate Fund and led a climate negotiation simulation with over 400 international delegates. She conducted research on energy poverty and access for the United Nations Foundation before travelling to rural India to research water conservation in farming practices. Jennifer is pursuing a career in renewable energy policy and off grid clean energy access. She will graduate in May 2016 with a Master of International Affairs, specializing in Energy and the Environment, and Management.



Jamie Hanson

Jamie Hanson is a Master of Public Administration 2016 candidate in the Environmental Science and Policy program at the School of International and Public Affairs. Before this program, she was a tenured faculty member at St. Cloud Technical and Community College in Minnesota, instructing environmental science and natural resource courses. Prior to that, she had the great experience of working on a Minnesota military site conducting graduate research and developing a response program addressing invasive plant species, as part of a M.S. program in Ecology and Natural Resources at St. Cloud State University. She is passionate about preserving nature and biodiversity and is furthering her education in the policy arena to better understand the process by which governments and NGOs protect our environment. From her previous career and academic experiences, Hanson already had a firm foundation in the natural sciences and felt that the MPA-ESP program at SIPA would enable her to build a similar foundation in environmental policy.



Fatine Jabre

Fatine Jabre holds a Master of Finance from Edhec Business School (France) and studied in WHU (Germany). Fatine has strong international and managerial exposure and has contributed to more than sixteen 4- to 6-month finance projects in twenty countries. She is the Career and Alumni Chair of SIPA Student Association and co-organized the start up showcase for the 11th Columbia University Energy Symposium. Fatine is a 2017 candidate for a Master of Public Affairs with specializations in Energy and the Environment and International Organizations.



Ilinca Kung Parslow

Ilinca Kung Parslow is a Master in Public Administration candidate at Columbia SIPA, specializing in Environmental Science and Policy. At Columbia, Parslow is the Project Manager for the Spring Capstone Workshop, working directly with Natural Resources Defense Council on “Replicable and Scalable Urban Sustainability Solutions.” Prior to Columbia, she worked as a special education teacher in New York City, managing community based vocational internship programs and was the ESL Instructor for the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. Before that, Parslow was the Political Affairs Intern at the Romanian Mission to the United Nations, actively negotiating her native country’s position on women’s rights issues, protection of migrant workers and intolerance and discrimination based on religion. Parslow is interested in working in the renewable energy field.



Marie von Hafften

Marie von Hafften is a writer and photographer with 4+ years of communications experience. Her work has been published by The Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost, and NextBillion. She is on the board of Columbia SIPA’s Women in Peace and Security and works as a communications intern for the upcoming United Nations World Humanitarian Summit. At Columbia, Marie is pursuing a Master of International Affairs with specializations in International Security Policy and International Media, Advocacy, and Communications. Before Columbia, Marie served as an AmeriCorps member at KYRS Thin Air Community Radio in Spokane, Washington.



Heliatrice Marques

Heliatrice Marques is a graduate student of Master of International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Class of 2016, focusing on Economic Development and energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, she is interning in the Monitoring and Evaluation Team of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) at Earth Institute. She is also a Graduate Consultant for a capstone project that intends to enlarge the off-grid energy portfolio of USAID Development Credit Authority (DCA) in Sub-Saharan Africa. During her summer internship, in 2015, Heliatrice conducted a research about the electricity landscape in Ruhiira, Uganda. Ruhiira is one of the MVP sites, and the one with a minigrid solar system known as SharedSolar. Before coming to SIPA, she worked for four years for the Embassy of France in Brazil, supporting bilateral technology transfer agreements, including in the photovoltaic sector. Heliatrice has obtained Bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and Journalism by PUC-SP (Brazil) and is fluent in Portuguese, English, French and Spanish.


Earth Science


Read Flusser

Read Flusser was born and raised in New York City and is currently a student in the Sustainable Development program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Before returning to Columbia’s School of General Studies, Read owned and operated a technology company, Artistech. After selling Artistech, Read and his fiancée spent nine months traveling in Asia. During his time abroad, Read became interested in global environmental challenges and decided to return to Columbia to resume his studies with a new focus on sustainability. At Columbia, Read began developing research on bamboo and its potential as a feedstock for efficient, second-generation biofuels.



Christy Jenkins

Christy Jenkins is a junior (CC ’17) in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) at Columbia University. She is majoring in Earth Science and her academic interests include geophysics, remote sensing, and environmental policy. She began working on this project as an Earth Intern at Lamont- Doherty Earth Observatory in the summer of 2015. Her research advisors are Joaquim Goes and Helga Gomes.



Ishita Kapur

Ishita Kapur received her Master’s degree in Climate and Society last year. She spent her summer of 2015 doing field work in the villages of India. This was part of a study that aims to understand economic and behavioral incentives behind groundwater conservation for paddy irrigation in Northern India.



Allison Hooks

Allison Hooks is a Columbia College senior from Austin, Texas majoring in environmental science with a concentration in political science. She is interested in studying climate change and is writing her senior thesis on the impacts of sea-level rise on Hudson River marshes. Allison is a research assistant at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory where she works on Hudson River mapping projects and manages sediment core data.



Karen Xia

Karen Xia is a second-year undergraduate student studying Computer Science-Statistics and Environmental Biology. As a member of Professor Ruth DeFries’ research team, working under the direction of Dr. Daniel Westervelt, she investigates air quality in India over the past decade, specifically particulate matter in the atmosphere. Her work, along with that of her research colleagues, considers public health and policy implications as well.



Eric Yee

Eric Yee is a graduating Master's student in the department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology interested in understanding the relationships between plant diversity, traits, life history, and physiology through the growing season. Eric thinks it's important to recognize that plant communities are dynamic, and that the ebb and flow of these communities could have profound effects on both natural and man-made environments.



Jonathan Young

Jonathan Young is a junior in Columbia College studying Sustainable Development and Comparative Literature. He is currently working as a research assistant at the Columbia Water Center, studying how paleoclimate records can be used to reconstruct flood history and predict future flood risk in the Southwest United States. In the past, he interned at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, looking at the law and policy of climate-induced human migration. He is most interested in the public health aspects of sustainable development, and will be conducting research this summer on the health effects of air pollution on urban bicycle riders for his senior thesis.




Karishma Patel

Karishma Patel is an MPH student in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. She is interested in the biological mechanisms of toxic exposure, the process for recognizing and evaluating associated risks, and the ways to use this knowledge to develop environmental health policy that better protects individuals and populations. In her spare time, she enjoys kayaking, rock climbing, sewing, and birding.



Kathryn Iglehart

Kathryn Iglehart is a second year MPH student at the Mailman School of Public Health. She's pursuing her degree through the department of Population and Family Health, with a certificate in Public Health and Humanitarian Assistance. Prior to pursuing her MPH degree, she worked in the private healthcare sector as a surgical coordinator for four years. Her interests lie in improving healthcare delivery and access to health services, including the use of health technology, and capabilities of healthcare systems.



Kelsey Markey

Kelsey Markey, originally from Florida, is a junior pursuing degrees in Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering through the 3/2 program with SEAS. Her project worked to analyze nutritional differences in household level production and consumption in the Millennium Village at Bonsaaso, Ghana.



Allison Murdoch

Allison Murdoch is a Senior and an Economic and Social History major at Barnard College interested in nutrition, sustainability, and historical economic analysis. Allison has experience in the pharmaceutical, financial services, and educational technology industries. After she graduates Allison plans to work at JP Morgan and eventually pursue a PhD in Organizational Development.


International Development


Alexander Fertig

Alexander Fertig was born in Austria, but grew up mostly in Buffalo, New York. After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2010 with a degree in Math and Economics, he worked in Madagascar for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, learning about agriculture and subsistence rice production directly from the source. In 2013, he moved to New York City and took a job with a start-up photography company in the fashion and events industry, but this left him unfulfilled. That is why he returned to school the following year, and is currently in his second year of an MPA at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, focusing in International Development. He is most interested in answering the following question: How can improvements in agricultural markets and productivity lead to sustained economic transformation? Alexander has traveled and worked in 6 continents.



Emma Krasovich

Emma Krasovich is an M.P.H. student in the Environmental Health Sciences department at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Her interests lie in sustainable development and capacity building of vulnerable communities as a means to both prevent and adapt to public health impacts of climate change. She hopes to gain experience researching and working on issues of food and water security, particularly as they relate to malnutrition and lack of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

She is currently researching with Dr. Norman Kleiman in the Environmental Health Sciences department on the potential causal pathway between dietary arsenic exposure and cataractogenesis in humans. Her present internship with the Earth Institute is focused on food security in Malawi by examining the trade-off between agricultural intensification, ecosystem services, and livelihoods.



Aimee Vachon

Aimee Vachon is a second year Master’s candidate in the International Educational Development program at Teachers College, Columbia University, where her work focuses mostly on early childhood and primary education throughout Africa. Most recently, Aimee worked with the Millennium Villages Project site in Rwanda, supporting the implementation of pilot local language literacy program in a set of pre-primary and primary schools.