Rachelle Gould has been an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies in the Rubenstein School for Environment and Natural Resources since the end of 2015, at which time she was part of a faculty cluster hire focused on the intersection of environmental issues and social justice. Gould has a B.A. in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard University, a Master’s Degree in Forest Science from Yale University, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program on Environment and Resources, and did post-doctoral work on environmental education at Stanford. Here at UVM, her studies are centered on adults’ lifelong environmental education, as well as cultural ecosystem services, or the non-material benefits nature provides, including cultural heritage, spirituality, personal identity, and other less tangible impacts. With the focus of her work deeply intertwined in the social implications of the natural world, Dr. Gould’s expanding of this type of research to refugee populations brings a relatively rare approach to studying refugee resettlement.
With funding from the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Fund of the U.S. Forestry Service, Dr. Gould will soon begin a project studying interactions between UVM’s school forests and the refugee populations of Burlington and Winooski. She hopes to analyze the dynamic nature of ecosystems’ nonmaterial benefits – specifically how diverse experiences influence relationships with the natural world, how individuals are impacted by these relationships, and how public policy can account for such relationships in addition to purely material concerns. Relatively few studies have considered this broad swath of socioenvironmental interaction, and none have involved refugees. The specific design of the research project remains in development, but the potential for improved understanding of refugees’ relationships to the environment is vast – as is the potential for increasing refugees’ access to common resources that some Vermonters may take for granted.
Dr. Gould’s intentions for this project are to respond to community needs by increasing the benefits of cultural ecosystem services for Burlington and Winooski’s refugee populations. She wants to learn about limitations on access to such benefits, current knowledge and educational practices among adults within the community, corollaries (or lack thereof) between agricultural cultivation and forest experience in refugees’ lives, and the multitudinous ways in which identity, place, and well-being intersect. She hopes to engage citizens who have been through the resettlement process in a constructive dialogue around such questions to gauge how non-material values vary across populations and discover where community need exists. For instance, it appears that refugee voices tend not to be heard in land policy decisions, despite the fact that they account for more than one percent of the state’s population and a significant portion of Burlington’s citizens. Refugees may have a wealth of knowledge and alternative perspectives on land management, Gould says. Through this project and UVM’s close connections to the Vermont State House, refugees could become better incorporated in decisions affecting the management of natural resources. Additionally, Western thought tends to minimize connections to environmental space, but one’s sense of place in the natural environment is crucial to personal well-being in many cultures and displacement from native ecosystems can be jarring – another potential issue that this project seeks to address through improved access to Vermont’s landscape.
Gould sees obvious connections between her position (Assistant Professor of sustainability and equity) and the multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary facets of refugee aid and acculturation. As she constructs this research project, she seeks to collaborate extensively with Burlington and Winooski’s refugee citizens, incorporating her own environmental and educational knowledge with the expertise of the local community and fellow academics. To students who, like her, may be interested in beginning work with refugee groups, the professor offers some advice. “Have a lot of humility … In working with populations you probably don’t understand, try to listen more than you talk. Leave space for people to talk, ask questions, and hear answers deeply. Encourage people to say things that aren’t on the tip of their tongue.” From education to political empowerment, Gould’s unique examination of new Americans’ ties to the Vermont landscape will add to academic understanding of connections to place and how education affects them and – with such focus on the incorporation of refugee perspectives in developing the study – offers great potential for community growth.
Funding: McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Fund of the U.S. Forestry Service
Research Team: Ph.D. student TBD
Project Description: This project will work with refugee communities to understand relationships with forests and land more generally, and then will explore how educational interventions co-designed with those communities affect (or don’t affect) the benefits that people receive from interacting with UVM’s school forests.
Exploring the links between harmful algal blooms and human well-being: how and why communities take action
When: 6/1/2017 – 5/31/20
Funding: Environmental Protection Agency
Single Lead PI: Rachelle Gould, firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-PI: Jason Stockwell
4 additional senior faculty: Elijah Stommel, Jana Kraft, Brendan Fisher, and Todd Miller
3 community partners: Denise Smith, Robert Ostermeyer, and James Ehlers. Ph.D. students TBD.
Project Description: Harmful algal blooms (HABs) impede ecosystem services and enhance ecosystem dis-services. This study will elucidate the links between HABs and human well-being, and investigate how and why a community takes action based on data about those links. There are six objectives detailed in the research plan: (1) determine relationships between cyanobacteria blooms (CB) and nutritional value of fish species; (2) understand the impact of aerosolized neurotoxins from CB on human health; (3) explore impacts of nonmaterial connections between CB and human well-being; (4) determine factors that have impeded water quality improvement in St. Albans Bay; (5) evaluate the effectiveness of informational framings to motivate action to reduce HABs; and (6) develop nuanced understanding of how communities accept, process, and understand scientific information related to HABs, and how they feel empowered or disempowered to affect change.
Bringing Cultural Ecosystem Services into decision-making
When: Current and ongoing
Funding: University of Vermont
Research Team: R. Gould and Ph.D. students Alison Adams and Joshua Morse; collaborators at other institutions
Project Description: One of Dr. Gould’s research areas is Cultural Ecosystem Services (the nonmaterial benefits that people receive from ecosystems). A current focus of this work is to better characterize these benefits and help their incorporation into policy.
Environmental learning in everyday life
When: current and ongoing
Funding: University of Vermont
Research Team: R. Gould and Ph.D. student Jen Cirillo
Project Description: This project focuses on environmental learning, particularly on how adults learn about the environment in everyday life.
Rachelle Gould, Ph.D.
Name: Rachelle Gould
B.A. Environmental Science and Public Policy, Harvard University
M.S. Forest Science, Yale University
Ph.D. Emmett Interdisciplinary Program on Environment and Resources, Stanford University
With UVM Since: Spring 2015
Title: Assistant Professor
Department/College: Environmental Program, Rubenstein School for Environment and Natural Resources
Human well-being and the environment
Environmental learning and behavior
Environmental values, policy, diversity, and equity