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Student spotlight: Cara Steger wins Global Impact Award at annual GradShow

Cara Steger headshotAt the end of the fall semester, students from Colorado State University’s eight colleges participated in CSU’s fourth Graduate Student Showcase. This on-campus conference held at the Lory Student Center provides graduate students with the opportunity to showcase their research and creativity, connect with students and faculty, learn about other disciplines, and gain confidence. Cara Steger, a Ph.D. candidate in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, was awarded a Global Impact Award for her dissertation work in the Ethiopian Highlands. Congratulations, Cara!

Collaborative Models for Adaptive Conservation in the Ethiopian Highlands

Modeling is increasingly used by academics and development practitioners to encourage collaborative governance, yet little research has been done to measure the impacts of this process on collective action outcomes, local ecological knowledge, and related cultural models (i.e., the beliefs, norms, and values surrounding human-environment relationships). This dissertation engages at the intersection of science, culture, and power to advance our understanding of the kinds of learning that occur throughout a collaborative modeling process. Our case study is a community conservation area in the central highlands of Ethiopia that is undergoing rapid social and ecological change, and our focus is on modeling the causes and consequences of shrub encroachment into their alpine grassland. Specifically, we ask: (1) How do resource users, decision-makers, and researchers understand the causes and consequences of shrub encroachment, and how do those types of knowledge relate to one another? (2) To what degree can collaborative social-ecological models facilitate social learning, and how does it impact both individual knowledge and shared cultural knowledge?  (3) What proposed management strategies arise during the collaborative modeling process, and how do these compare to strategies originally identified by different stakeholder groups? We will use three modeling paradigms of increasing complexity (i.e., conceptual models, species distribution models, and agent-based models) to better understand the process of shrub encroachment, and the learning process will be assessed using interviews and cultural consensus analysis conducted after each modeling workshop.

Cara Steger’s Ethiopian colleagues will be in Fort Collins February 13-16 for a workshop relating to this project. Stay tuned for a summary of workshop objectives and outcomes!

Cara Steger's grad showcase poster presentation
Above is Cara’s poster describing the project. Click the picture to view a full PDF.