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NILES LAB- CURRENT MEMBERS

POST-DOCTORATES

Sam Bliss is a postdoctoral fellow in two departments at the University of Vermont: he does research in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences and teaches ecological economics in Community Development and Applied Economics. In 2023, he completed a PhD in Natural Resources on how and why Vermonters produce and distribute food that's not for sale. Sam is continuing this line of research as a postdoc, studying how home and wild food production influence food security, health, and environmental outcomes in high-income societies. During his seven years of fieldwork on non-market food practices in northern New England, he has not only interviewed more than one hundred practitioners but also gardened, foraged, spearfished, dumpster-dived, raised chickens, slaughtered livestock, and coordinated Food Not Bombs Burlington, a mutual aid project that has shared lunch with all comers behind a downtown parking garage every day since March 2020. Sam is also a frequent public speaker on non-market economies and degrowth. Before coming to Vermont, he was a Fulbright Fellow at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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Matthew Kling is a postdoc researcher in the department of Biology. His current work, co-advised by Dr. Niles and Dr. Nick Gotelli, focuses on modeling the impacts of climate change on agriculture and biodiversity across rural New England. Matt completed his PhD in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, where he was a NSF Graduate Research Fellow and a NSF National Research Trainee in interdisciplinary environmental data science. His past work and research interests span the fields of global change biology, plant ecology, and data science.

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Ashley McCarthy is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences & Food Systems Program. She is exploring the impact of COVID-19 on food access, food security and food systems as part of the on National Food Access and COVID research Team (NFACT). She earned her PhD in February 2021 from the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Ashley was an NSF IGERT Trainee in the Water Diplomacy program at Tufts University and a USDA-NIFA Predoctoral Fellow. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on meeting the food and nutrition needs of the growing population while improving sustainability and resiliency to disruptions in the food system, such as climate change, natural resource scarcity, and extreme weather events. She’s particularly interested in the role that regional food systems could play in food system resilience and sustainability. Ashley uses a variety of methodological approaches in her work, including geospatial analysis, quantitative food systems modeling, and statistical analysis.

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Lauren Hunt is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont. Her research is broadly focused on agricultural decision-making and behavior in the context of climate change. She earned her PhD in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior and Human-Environment Systems in 2023 from Boise State University. Lauren was a USGS National Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC) Science-to-Action Fellow and a Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) Graduate Research Fellow. She examines producers’ adaptation and mitigation strategies, perceptions and experience of climate change, and the efficacy of climate program and policies in ranching, dairy and row crop agricultural systems. Lauren employs interdisciplinary, mixed-methods social science research and geospatial techniques to support sustainable and climate resilient communities and agroecosystems.

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STUDENTS AND RESEARCH ASSISTANTS

Elizabeth Espinosa is a Complex Systems and Data Science Ph.D. student, and research assistant of the Barracuda Project (Biodiversity and Rural Response to Climate Change Using Data Analysis) where she focuses on the economic dimensions driving  climate change adaptation in agriculture. She holds a B.A. in Economics from the Catholic University of Ecuador, an M.A. in Development Economics from FLACSO Ecuador, and an M.S. in Complex Systems and Data Science from UVM. Before moving to the U.S., Elizabeth worked as an economic analyst and consultant for the State Bank and the Economic and Social Inclusion Ministry in Ecuador, United Nations Women, and other organizations. Her contributions include designing economic and social programs like public daycare facilities, cash transfers, accompaniment, and credit programs. She is now interested in studying the dynamics of socio-environmental systems by applying data science and mathematical modeling through the lens of ecological and political economy approaches. In her dissertation, she seeks to understand the role of heterogeneous and hierarchical structures in knowledge transmission and structural adaptation in agriculture.

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Carolyn Hricko is a Food Systems PhD student and a fellow with the Gund Institute for the Environment. Her research interests include the interactions between diet, health, agriculture and the environment, and the roles of agroecology and ecological economics in supporting a more just, sustainable food system. Prior to her graduate studies at UVM, Carolyn managed the food system policy program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, developing and advancing food system policies that protect public health and the environment. She also worked for USAID as a strategic policy and program management specialist for the South and Central Asia region and has worked across the western US in outdoor education and land use planning. Carolyn earned her Master of Public Health degree in Global Environmental Sustainability and Public Health with a certificate in Food Systems, the Environment, and Public Health and her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Chemistry.

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Makenzie Keen (she/hers) is a Food Systems M.S. student studying food insecurity among cancer patients at UVM Medical Center. She is a registered dietitian who has dedicated her career to addressing food security issues in low-income and historically disenfranchised communities. Her professional experience includes working within government-funded food assistance programs such as WIC, NSLP, and SNAP-Ed, which aim to promote healthy eating habits and behaviors for families. Makenzie earned her bachelor’s degree in dietetics from Kansas State University in 2019 and completed the didactic program through Cornell University in 2020. She firmly believes that no one should go hungry and advocates for improving government-funded programs to address structural issues alongside enhancing food access. In her free time, Makenzie enjoys reading, playing the piano, and teaching yoga.

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Becca Mitchell (she/her) works with Dr. Niles as Food Systems Research and Action Coordinator. In this role, she applies her background and interest in food security and sustainable food systems to support and coordinate a number of research projects, including studying perceptions of climate change in the US dairy industry and measuring health outcomes of the COVID pandemic in northern New England. Prior to her work at UVM, Becca completed her Masters in Food and Agriculture Law and Policy through Vermont Law School. She has managed food access and education programs at both Hunger Free Vermont and Green Mountain Farm to School. She is also a 200hr Registered Yoga Teacher.

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ALUMNI POSTDOCS, STUDENTS AND RESEARCH ASSISTANTS

Zack Goldstein received his masters in Food Systems in 2023.  He studied producer and consumer attitudes surrounding dairy producer climate adaptation practices and farmer adoption of water management practices in California. Before moving to Vermont, Zack lived in Washington, DC and worked as a Policy and Data Visualization Associate with the National Journal covering environmental, agricultural, and infrastructure policy. Zack attended Brown University, where he graduated with a BA in Public Policy and Philosophy and examined food systems through coursework, academic research, and internships. At Brown, he worked as a Research Assistant on a project related to fisheries and seafood policy in the US, and wrote a Public Policy Senior Honors Thesis assessing the impact of US Department of Agriculture farm program eligibility requirements on farm structure and consolidation. Outside of school, Zack enjoys board games, playing saxophone and piano, and cooking and baking. He is originally from Long Island, New York.  Currently he works for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

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Maya Moore, PhD received her PhD in Food Systems in 2023, having spent the previous decade working in the conservation and development field, mainly in Madagascar but also in Thailand and Guatemala.  Originally from Northern Maine, she holds degrees in Biology, French and Sustainable International Development, and is predominantly interested in seeking out interdisciplinary answers to the challenges of food security in the face of climate change, as it relates to human well-being and tropical biodiversity protection. Her research examined  the ways in which smallholder farmers are experiencing and perceiving climate change, how this impacts land use decisions and ties into conservation strategy in tropical systems where agricultural pressure is the leading cause of deforestation. Other interests include organizational development, gender and grassroots movements. She loves to travel, experience different cultures and try the (street) food!  She is currently a post-doctorate in the Climate School at Columbia University.

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Malarie McGalliard (she/her) received her masters in Food Systems in 2023.  She explored the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food and healthcare access in rural Northern New England. As a Research Assistant and member of the National Food Access and COVID research Team (NFACT), Malarie brings over 8 years of experience working on anti-hunger initiatives in the charitable food system. Prior to attending the University of Vermont, Malarie received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing from North Carolina State University. After graduation, she served two years as an AmeriCorps State and National Volunteer at a food bank where she worked alongside community partners to create resiliency strategies geared towards strengthen the food security net of those living in rural western North Carolina. In addition to her research and studies, Malarie currently serves as the Graduate Student Director of Rally Cat’s Cupboard, UVM’s on-campus food pantry. Outside of academics, Malarie enjoys travelling, camping, live music, and spending time with friends and family.  Malarie now works for More Than Food Consulting.

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Guang Han was a post-doc researcher at the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences & Food Systems Program. He was one of the social scientists working for Precision Sustainable Agriculture, a CAP project sponsored by USDA NIFA. He earned his Ph.D. degree with majors in Sustainable Agriculture and Agricultural Extension Education in August 2020 at Iowa State University. He has been awarded the Iowa State University Research Excellence Award, North Central SARE Graduate Student Research Grant, and been a member of the Gamma Sigma Delta Honor Society of Agriculture. His research centers on the sociological and agricultural extension perspectives of sustainable agriculture and food systems, with a particular focus on organic agriculture, conservation practices, alternative energy, and climate change.   He is now an Associate Professor at Nanjing Agricultural University in China.

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Luis Alexis Rodríguez-Cruz was a PhD candidate in Food Systems and Graduate Fellow at the Gund Institute for the Environment, finishing his PhD in 2022. Luis is interested in studying food systems and natural hazards in the Caribbean and beyond. His research and writing center on how governance systems and social-ecological dynamics relate to individuals’ adaptive capacity in this changing climate. Luis’s dissertation aims to understand the drivers and barriers across scales to strengthen Puerto Rican farmers’ adaptive capacity through assessing mixed-methods data gathered after 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Before arriving to Vermont, Luis worked at the Puerto Rico’s Department of Agriculture’s Fisheries Division, and at the University of Puerto Rico’s Extension Service’s nutrition education programs. Those experiences fortified his desire to become an interdisciplinary and applied scientist that researchers and engages in science communication and outreach. Luis was one of the founding members of the Puerto Rico Science Policy Action Network, a Ciencia Puerto Rico initiative focused on engaging Puerto Rican scientists in policymaking and science communication. Luis is a 2020 Switzer Environmental Fellow and COMPASS Scientist Sentinel, who also works in Cuba through the Caribbean Agroecology Institute. After UVM, he worked for the Caribbean Climate Hub in Puerto Rico, and currently teaches at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez.  He holds a MS in food science and technology from UPR-Mayagüez, and a BS in biology with sub-concentration in biotechnology from UPR-Ponce. Click here to learn more about his work.

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Tim Harrold was an undergraduate Computer Science student at UVM. He is interested in data visualization, and exploring ways to apply computing concepts in interdisciplinary studies. He has completed data visualization projects using methods such as speech analysis and graph theory. Currently, he is creating an educational platform for farmers to explore climate adaptation practices with a Cost-Benefit-Analysis based economic tool. He is also exploring different visual and algorithmic approaches to modeling crop diversity and nutritional stability. Tim now works for Amazon.

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Alissa White was a PhD student in the UVM Plant and Soil Science Department, where she  engaged in community based and participatory research on sustainable agriculture. Alissa’s research integrates social and ecological data on ecosystem services and climate resilience to explore complex problems, and what drives change when agriculture is faced with ecological crises.  Her research places farmers as central agents in creating solutions to pressing challenges facing agriculture, and highlights the role of collaborative problem-solving spaces. Most recently, Alissa has worked closely with extension and applied research projects to engage farmers in research on climate resilience and ecosystem services in Vermont and the northeastern US.  She ran the New England Adaptation Survey while earning her MS in Plant and Soil Science from UVM, and earned her BA in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz.  Alissa is a GradCAP scholar, and a 2020 Emerging Leader in Food and Agriculture.  As a graduate fellow with the Gund Institute for the Environment, Alissa's research is supporting the development of policy to pay farmers for ecosystem services in Vermont. She is currently was a post-doctorate for the Gund Institute of Environment, and now is the Senior Climate Director for the Northeast for American Farmland Trust.

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Kristen Wirkkala was a Master’s degree candidate in Food Systems at the University of Vermont. Her interest in food systems stems from her deep love and spiritual connection with the earth. She is interested in how connection to nature, specifically through gardening and engaging in the cultivation of one's own food, can impact human health. As an intern with the Vermont Community Garden Network in the summer of 2019, Kristen developed curriculum and taught garden education workshops with families at affordable housing sites, seniors in a memory care facility, and new Americans in the Burlington area. Kristen graduated with a BS in Secondary Education and Social Science from Keene State College in 2012. After graduating, she served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA, then worked for five years in non-profit development. She is now a holistic health and garden coach, where her mission is to help women revolutionize their diet and lifestyle and live and eat closer to nature. Her research is focused on the use of home food procurement strategies among Vermonters in the wake of COVID-19 and their impact on food security, diet quality, and mental health. Kristen now works for the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

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Devon Johnson was a Master’s student in the Food Systems program at the University of Vermont. She earned Bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Studies and Policy studies at Elon University. At Elon she served as the volunteer coordinator for the university farm through Campus Kitchen, a national non-profit organization that takes excess food on college campuses and reallocates it to those in need. In this role her primary responsibilities were educating students about proper organic farming techniques, as well as the severity of food insecurity in the school’s surrounding area. This role led her to become the assistant-farm manager and inspired her to pursue a graduate degree in Food Systems. Her research focused on climate change adaptation needs among small, medium, and beginning farmers in Vermont. Currently Devon is an agricultural specialist for the California USDA Climate Hub in Davis, CA.

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Courtney Hammond Wagner was PhD student in Natural Resources at UVM and a former member of the Niles Lab. As an environmental social scientist, Courtney’s research broadly aims to understand how we design incentives, rules and policies to collectively change behavior in water resource dilemmas to improve community well-being and ecological outcomes. Courtney received a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont in 2019, which focused on policy design for declining water quality from agricultural nutrient runoff. Courtney also worked with Dr. Niles on a project to identify the role of farmer social norms and fairness perceptions in California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) policy process. Courtney is now building on this SGMA research in her postdoc at Stanford where she is focused on two additional aspects of SGMA: the mandated use of climate information in groundwater sustainability plans and the role of incentives in farmer groundwater use. While at UVM Courtney was a graduate student fellow at the Gund Institute for the Environment and had a graduate research fellowship through the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded Economics for the Anthropocene program. Courtney also has a BA in Psychology from Dartmouth College. She was previously a postdoctoral scholar in sustainable groundwater management at Water in the West at Stanford University, and now is a scientist at the Food Systems Research Unit at the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

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Serge Wiltshire finished his Ph.D. in Food Systems at the University of Vermont in May 2019. His research interests lie in the areas of computer modeling of complex agroecological systems, behavioral economics experimentation, and computational analysis of food systems network structures; with an eye toward improving food system resilience. Previous and ongoing research efforts include the development of strategies to promote the adoption of best management practices among Vermont’s dairy farmers, computer modeling of livestock production chain network structures in order to reduce epidemiological vulnerability, and analysis of public policy solutions which could reduce the impact of soil and water degradation, climate change, changing diets, and other factors on future global food security.  Serge was previously a post-doctorate at University of California-Berkeley and the University of Vermont in Plant and Soil Sciences.  He is now a data scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Thomas Wentworth was a research assistant in the Niles Lab in 2018-2020. He supported the lab by providing research, analysis, and data visualization for a wide range of projects in the intersection of food and climate. Thomas studied Conservation Psychology at Middlebury College, where he designed a device that gives real-time feedback on electric consumption, managed a student-run organization committed to providing access to affordable and fresh foods (Middlebury Foods), and received first place in a DOE student-design competition. Although he has a strong interest in renewable energy, since graduating he has followed his passion for food systems: he worked with Vermont Farm to Plate to create a comprehensive database of Vermont producers and distributors, and spent one day a week as a farmhand on Golden Russet Farm. Thomas also worked previously for Staple Health (a preventative care health-tech startup) designing interactive mapping technology. He is committed to working on food security and the climate crisis, and was thrilled to be a part of the lab. He now lives in Boulder, Colorado and works for an energy efficiency start-up.

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Emilie Riddle was a Dietetics master's student at the University of Vermont, finishing in May 2018. She is interested in exploring the ways that dietitians work towards a more just and sustainable food system that supports health at all levels. Through her supervised practice experience she is built a solid foundation of skills and tools to support individuals and communities in their journey towards a healthy and balanced life. Emilie’s research project focused on exploring the prevalence of food insecurity and populations most impacted at postsecondary institutions. She analyzed data from the University of Vermont Campus Food Security Survey to identify disparities and trends in campus groups at potential risk of food insecurity. The results of this analysis will inform future iterations of the survey, and provide context for campus discussions about strategies to address this issue.  Emilie now resides in North Carolina and works as a registered dietitian.

Olivia Peña was a student in the accelerated Master's Food Systems graduate program, finishing in August 2018. Beginning her undergraduate studies at UVM, Olivia took opportunities to impact different scales of food systems On campus, she was a member of the Real Food Working Group, which works with UVM Dining to create a more sustainable campus food system. In 2015, she researched and published an article on diversity education in land-grant universities nationally. She also worked with the Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security group through the Gund Institute to study global climate smart agricultural practices. Olivia graduated in Spring 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Food Systems. Her specific interests center around food and agricultural policy. As a masters student, Olivia focused her research on communications and outreach strategies in Vermont for Farm Bill policy development, working with local constituent groups and federal policymakers. She published the Vermonters Guide to the Farm Bill including executive summaries for policymakers, community members, and organizations across Vermont.  Olivia founded the Vermont Releaf Collective, a network by and for Black, Indigenous, & People of Color advancing racial equity in land, environment, agriculture, & foodways.

 Alana Chriest was a master's student in the Food Systems program, finishing in September 2017. Alana grew up in small dairy valley in Washington State, and spent many years working for multiple restaurants, including two of her family’s own. This set the stage for a lifetime of critical food systems thinking and the implications of modern society’s food paradigm. Her curiosity and formal learning focuses on what she considers the most profound aspect of food systems – human behavior. In 2013 she earned a BA in Sociology, with minors in Philosophy and Environmental Studies, from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). Alana’s past research includes student food insecurity, and labeling effects on consumer behavior. For her thesis, she investigated the effects of social capital on community food security during and after climate shocks in rural areas of central Vermont severely affected by the extreme weather event Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Before entering graduate school, she served an AmeriCorps term with the American Red Cross, served on the UAA Business Service Working Group, and was part of the Real Food Challenge National Standards Council. She is now a PhD student at Ohio State University in Natural Resources.

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