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Three Emerging Scholars to Lead New Research Partnerships

Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability has awarded postdoctoral fellowships to three emerging scholars in sustainability. The two-year fellowships provide the opportunity to bridge academic research and non-academic external organizations to achieve real-world impact. 

Awardees stimulate original interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, participate in leadership training coordinated by Cornell Atkinson and EDF, and join a growing cohort of almost 200 research fellows seeking solutions to the world's most pressing sustainability challenges.  

 "The Cornell Atkinson postdoc fellowship program continues to attract exceptionally well-qualified candidates from around the world to Cornell to work with faculty mentors and external partner organizations," says Graham Kerslick, Cornell Atkinson Executive Director. "Successful proposals demonstrate strong relationships with external organizations, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the EPA, that have the potential to have real-world impact on policy, practices, and products."  

The 2021 Cornell Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellows:   

Katie Epstein is a human geographer invested in interdisciplinary research that generates new theory and practice for the betterment of rural peoples, wildlife populations, and the agricultural landscapes they so often share. Epstein's dissertation examines social-ecological change and wildlife management issues related to patterns of ranchland ownership in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  As a Postdoctoral Fellow, Epstein will use a central finding from this work – that wildlife management is inherently emotional – as the starting point for a project focused on the nexus of wildlife health, conservation, and rural sustainability. Epstein will collaborate with CALS professor Bruce Lauber and collaborate with project partners at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Big Goose Creek Resolutions, and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research to analyze the role of emotions in biosecurity projects to control infectious wildlife diseases. This information is essential to improving communities' capacity for managing wildlife disease to address conflict and creatively self-determine more sustainable, healthful, and equitable futures.  

"[The Cornell] Atkinson Fellowship is an ideal next step in a trajectory towards a career in research and teaching, and an invaluable opportunity to work alongside project partners and advance integrated, social science approaches to the study of wildlife disease management," says Epstein.  

Stephen Jane researches freshwater ecosystems to ensure their preservation and protection. As part of his PhD, he led a collaborative project with the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network. It revealed that a rise in lake surface temperatures leads to oxygen depletion in lakes across the temperate zone.   

Ongoing deoxygenation has wide-ranging implications for the future of lake ecosystems, including enhancing the accumulation of toxic mercury in food fishes. In many freshwaters, there is enough mercury in large fish to pose a risk to human health when consumed regularly.   

Jane's Cornell Atkinson project will focus on the role of low dissolved oxygen in New York lakes to provide predictive models that will help managers strategically target vulnerable lakes for monitoring and inform fish consumption advisories to the public. Additionally, in partnership with Peter McIntyre (CALS) and external advisor Collin Eagles-Smith, Jane's work will inform policy around mercury mitigation efforts.  

Cindy Kaiying Lin studies state-driven artificial intelligence (AI) to counter large-scale environmental threats in postcolonial contexts. Her dissertation examines how environmental data is used to predict fires on Indonesia's tropical peatland—the world's largest terrestrial natural carbon store—and the critical role of this data in the work of law enforcement and surveillance. As a Cornell Atkinson postdoctoral fellow, she will study how creators of machine learning training datasets address algorithmic bias to mitigate environmental destruction in the global South.   

In collaboration with Steven J. Jackson, professor in the Cornell Department of Information Science, practitioners from the Radiant Earth Foundation, and environmental scientists from Asia and Africa, she will develop a handbook on creating inclusive and anti-racist machine-learning datasets and models for the environmental domain.    

"Cindy's work represents a timely and important three-way connection - between AI and machine learning tools, climate change, and problems of bias and inequality in the Global South,' says Steven Jackson (CIS). Her work with Atkinson promises to build new insight at this crucially important intersection."  

Cornell Atkinson has awarded more than twenty Postdoctoral Fellowships since its establishment in 2015. The Cornell Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowships and leadership program are made possible with generous donor support.


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