Written by Liz Pacheco, Environmental Science and Policy Program
Taking a position in Michigan has been a transition for Diana Stuart, the newest professor in MSU's sociology department. A California native whose prior research is on west coast agriculture, Stuart only arrived in East Lansing this fall and is still acclimating to her new surroundings.
"I'm getting to know the new cropping systems and different perspectives of farmers in Michigan," she said. "I'm curious to see the similarities between California and Michigan."
What makes Stuart's position at MSU particularly interesting is that her office is at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). A research field station located about 65 miles from main campus, KBS supports research in ecology and agriculture as well as education for undergraduate, graduates and K-12. A social scientist's work may seem out of place there; however, Stuart's research will help explore the social challenges scientists at KBS are facing.
Stuart said her work will contribute to the Long-Term Ecological Research Program, funded at KBS since 1988 by the National Science Foundation. The program includes many research projects, but Stuart will be directly involved with two: a study that monitors how nitrogen is released in fertilizer application and another that's working to transition dairy cows to a pasture-based diet. Her research will identify and help reduce the barriers local Michigan farmers might face in adopting farming programs based on these studies.
Although Stuart will work with natural scientists, she'll focus on informing changes to agriculture related programs and policies. Interviews, focus groups and mail surveys will be important tools for her. But, as a social scientist with a background in ecology, she considers herself to be at an advantage since she already understands the science behind the KBS projects.
Stuart came to MSU after earning a Ph.D. in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Before that she received a bachelor's from the University of California, Berkeley in environmental science and a master's from the University of Washington in wildlife ecology.
Stuart defines her work as "studying environmental issues relating to agriculture." Initially, she was interested in biology and ecology and even considered a career in environmental journalism because she likes to write.
"I've always been passionate about other living creatures and protecting their right to survive," she said. "My hero is Aldo Leopold, whose Land Ethic resonated with me. I always wanted to study the human element and how we're a part of [the land]." For Stuart, agriculture is a clear and undeniable linkage between humans and nature.
Stuart's interdisciplinary interests made her decision to join ESPP easy and she sees the program as a great way to communicate environmental issues.