NAU graduate students get funding to become environmental leaders

Five future environmental science and conservation policy makers from Northern Arizona University’s School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability have jump-started their careers by earning fellowships and scholarships from two prestigious national programs.

Doris Duke 2010 Conservation Fellows
Doris Duke 2010 Conservation Fellows Cristina Gonzalez-Maddux, Rajani Maharjan and Spencer Plumb

“We are really excited for the students and for our program,” said Tom Sisk, professor and coordinator of the interdisciplinary graduate program. “The Doris Duke Conservation Fellows have put NAU on the map internationally, and that helps us attract a great bunch of scholars.”Cristina Gonzalez-MadduxRajani Maharjan and Spencer Plumb were awarded Doris Duke Charitable Foundation 2010 Conservation Fellowships—an honor that provides tuition funding, a paid internship and access to a network of collaborative opportunities with other researchers. As part of their fellowship, the students will travel to the National Conservation Training Center this fall for professional development training with other Conservation Fellows from around the nation.

The students are part of NAU’s graduate program in Environmental Sciences and Policy, a curriculum linking natural and social sciences.

Doris Duke Conservation Fellows

The Doris Duke Conservation Fellows program has been in place nationally since 1997 and has been supporting NAU students in the Environmental Sciences and Policy program for the past four years. Graduates of the NAU program whose studies were supported by the Doris Duke program have gone on to pursue careers with the Grand Canyon Trust, National Park Service, tribal resource agencies and other public and private institutions committed to the conservation of biological and cultural diversity. For information about the program and the Doris Duke Conservation Fellowships, contact

“As a Doris Duke fellow, I am grateful to have not only the support of this exceptional foundation, but also the opportunity to forward the foundation’s mission through my graduate research,” Gonzalez-Maddux said.

Her thesis examines wind-blown transport of uranium and other toxic metals from abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo Nation. Gonzalez-Maddux plans to pursue a future in public policy analysis focusing on the impacts of mining and toxic exposure on vulnerable populations.

Maharjan’s thesis focuses on the effects of river diversion on the physical, chemical and biological aspects of the Verde River. “From this research I hope to gain better understanding of restoration and protection of our scarce water resources,” she said. After she completes her degree, Maharjan will return to Nepal, where she plans to continue her work in river conservation.

Plumb’s work includes surveys in indigenous communities, collecting information about the role of forests and agricultural systems in subsistence living, and identifying drivers of deforestation that come from colonists moving into indigenous territory. “Thanks in part to funding from the Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship, I had the unique opportunity to work in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve of La Moskitia, Honduras, this past summer,” Plumb said. He intends to continue working to develop social standards and criteria necessary to engage local communities in all aspects of developing and implementing forest carbon and related conservation projects.

Environmental Sciences and Policy majors Cerissa Hoglander and Evan Reimondo are sharing the limelight with the other three for receiving the 2010 Wyss Scholars for Conservation of the American West award.


Wyss Scholars
2010 Wyss Scholars Evan Reimondo and Cerissa Hoglander

“The support of the Wyss Foundation allows me to gain great experience while working on fascinating—if complicated—conservation issues,” Reimondo said. “I hope to use this generous support and my Wyss experience to pursue a career in addressing the difficult and controversial issues of Western conservation.”The Wyss program provides scholarships for graduate students pursuing careers in land conservation and management in the Intermountain West.  Hoglander and Reimondo each will receive about $30,000, including a $5,000 summer internship so they can continue their work throughout the year, and post-graduate payments to help them get a strong start in the professional world after graduation.

Reimondo is studying the ecological impacts and management implications of an introduced herd of bison on the Kaibab Plateau. Hoglander is researching developing landscape models of water and habitat use by desert bighorn sheep in the areas of the Yuma Proving Ground and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Arizona.

“This scholarship supports and encourages my current and future efforts in conservation science and policy,” Hoglander said. “This will help me strengthen my science skills and apply lessons from my interdisciplinary education to real-world conservation challenges in Western lands. It’s certainly an honor.”

Hoglander and Reimondo completed summer internships as part of their work as Conservation Scholars. Reimondo worked with Grand Canyon National Park on research related to his thesis project, and Hoglander worked with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, assisting with research on the effects of ponderosa pine forest treatments on the habitat use by tassel-eared squirrels.