Four early-career scholars have been chosen as Cornell Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellows, a two-year fellowship focused on increasing food security, reducing climate risks, accelerating energy transitions, and advancing One Health.
Sponsored by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability since 2014, fellows choose a research project, a Cornell faculty mentor and an advisor from a partnering external organization. The program seeks to forward sustainability goals while providing professional development, career strategy, communications training and collaborative leadership to promising young scholars.
“We provide our postdoctoral fellows with the resources to win early-career success in their chosen discipline while learning to drive research efforts to large-scale impact,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. “Because successfully addressing urgent sustainability challenges demands leadership and engagement with individuals and organizations outside the academy.”
Beth Fox, director of Postdoctoral and Student Programs for Cornell Atkinson, said the postdoctoral fellows program has been a formative influence for many fellows’ career development, research, future partnerships and teaching.
“This fellowship is premised on the belief that a sustainable future requires the rapid transformation of research to impactful action along multiple dimensions and across all institutional and career frameworks, and that is exactly what we hope to prepare our fellows to accomplish,” she said.
Kendra Kintzi, M.S.’19: Just Power: Centering Social Equity in Southwest Asia’s Renewable Energy Transition
From electricity protests in Jordan and Lebanon to the creation of renewable “smart” cities in Saudi Arabia, the region of Southwest Asia is a site of radical energy transformation. Kintzi, a Cornell Ph.D. candidate, will develop a comparative approach to Southwest Asia’s renewable transition that can inform global research and activism, with a view to fostering equity-focused decarbonization policy and practice.
Kintzi will be mentored by Philip McMichael, professor emeritus of global development and collaborate with Jerome Hodges, chief research officer at the Jain Family Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on piloting and implementing interventions to improve human wellbeing.
Kintzi’s work seeks to address the ongoing struggle for social equity and transition to renewable energy in a region where fossil fuels fund gross disparities in wealth and power.
“In Southwest Asia, transborder mobilizations take shape in the long shadow of the Arab Spring and pose fundamental challenges to regional power hierarchies,” she said. “Given the dynamic complexity of the region’s interconnections, there is an urgent need for approaches that move beyond the nation state to make connections between regional shifts in energy production and place-based mobilizations for energy justice.”
In collaboration with the Jain Family Institute, Kintzi will develop a series of community-engaged workshops to enable radical collaboration and dialogue.
Divya Solomon: Capping Crop Burning Through Synergies Between Conservation Agriculture and Carbon Credits
Solomon, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, will assess the potential of the carbon credit market in India to subsidize and accelerate farmers’ adoption of sustainable practices such as zero tillage, which improve soil health and mitigate climate change.
Her mentor will be Chris Barrett, the Stephen B. & Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management and International Professor of Agriculture, and external advisor is Andrew McDonald ’94, M.S. ’98, Ph.D. ’03, technical consultant for the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA).
Solomon’s project builds on ongoing work to understand how sustainable intensification technologies can benefit farmers' livelihoods and minimize the negative impacts of agriculture on the environment. She will partner with CSISA to study whether offering farmers carbon credits for adopting renewable practices will deter farmers from burning crop residues. She will also map the effects of adopting these technologies on household well-being to build a holistic understanding of the impacts of sustainable intensification technologies.
“This study will give insights into the effectiveness of technological and financial innovations to nudge India's agricultural pathway to a more sustainable one while identifying barriers to adoption and key leverage points to increase social, economic and environmental benefits,” Solomon said.
Margaret Swift: Simulating Sustainability through a One Health Lens
A Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, Swift will explore how livestock fencing in southern Africa impacts the migration of wild mammals, especially elephants, and how alternative livestock disease management practices could protect both wild and domestic animals.
Her Cornell mentor is Steven Osofsky, D.V.M. ’89, the Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy and director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, and external advisor is Robin Naidoo, senior conservation scientist and lead wildlife scientist for the World Wildlife Fund.
Veterinary fencing crisscrosses much of southern Africa, protecting livestock from contracting diseases like foot and mouth from wild populations, but preventing wild mammals from migrating seasonally to access grazing and water resources. Swift’s project will use advanced computer modeling to investigate how elephants currently move about southern Africa's Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, the largest such landscape in Africa, and how elephant movement patterns might change if alternative approaches to livestock disease management less dependent upon fencing were adopted. By simulating migrations using real-world elephant tracking data, potential scenarios for integrative, sustainable land-use management become easier to understand and evaluate.
“As ecotourism revenues have begun to rival those of pastoralism in this area, conservation of large herbivores that shape ecosystems and draw tourists is crucial,” Swift said. “In keeping with the Cornell Atkinson One Health theme, this project will spotlight the sustainable benefits of optimizing land-use planning at the interface of wildlife, livestock, and human health and livelihoods.”
Michael Vega: Effects of Alternate Wetting and Drying on Biogeochemical Couplings between Nitrous Oxide Production and Inorganic Arsenic Mobilization in Rice Paddy Soils
Vega, who earned his Ph.D. last year from the Colorado School of Mines, will study how to improve rice farming sustainability through environmental engineering, geochemistry, and microbiology. Conventional rice farming is water intensive, releases methane, and can result in arsenic accumulation in rice, impacting food security as well as climate risks. To minimize these effects, alternate wetting and drying (AWD) is a
recently adopted irrigation method which decreases water use and methane production. Although successful by these metrics, AWD can increase nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas roughly 10 times more potent than methane, with limited effect on inorganic arsenic accumulation in rice.
In collaboration with Cornell mentor Matt Reid, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and external partner Varunseelan Murugaiyan, postdoctoral researcher at the International Rice Research Institute, Vega will investigate how AWD intensity and fertilization timing can be managed to inform a practical rice
farming strategy that minimizes nitrous oxide and methane emissions, as well as arsenic accumulation and water use.
“Being an Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellow will enable interactions with researchers of diverse disciplines that will make my science more well-rounded, and therefore more societally relevant and impactful,” Vega said. “The external collaboration component will also be critical for my professional growth, and my partnership with the International Rice Research Institute will provide a global perspective and network that will increase my ability to conduct meaningful sustainability research throughout my career.”