2018-2019 Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows:
Food & Water Security

2018 - 2019 Leshner Leadership Institute fellows | Mary Catherine Longshore/AAAS

Learn more about the 2018 - 2019 cohort of AAAS Leshner Fellows:

Kate Brauman, Lead Scientist, University of Minnesota

Kate Brauman is the lead scientist for the Global Water Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Brauman’s research integrates hydrology and land use with economics and policy to better understand how water use affects the environment and our ability to live well in it. She is currently a lead author for the global assessment of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Brauman received her doctorate in environment and resources from Stanford University.

Sarah Feakins, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California

Sarah Feakins’ recent work has tested the drought response of wheat crops and surveyed the diversity of tropical forest ecosystems. She uses this knowledge of plants, and specifically their leaf waxes, to document past changes in plant life and rainfall patterns, including studies on the expansion of grasslands in Africa and the revegetation of Antarctica during a prior warming event. Sarah obtained her doctorate in geology from Columbia University.

Dustin Garrick, Associate Professor, University of Oxford

Dustin Garrick is an associate professor and co-director of the Water Programme at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford. His work focuses at the interface of water and the economy, specializing in water reallocation and markets as responses to climate change, urbanization and sustainable development challenges. He currently leads a World Bank-funded project on water reallocation from agriculture to cities and the potential to share resources and risks across the urban-rural divide. Garrick has a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Arizona.

Kristy Hopfensperger, Associate Professor, Northern Kentucky University

Kristy Hopfensperger is the director of the Environmental Science Program at Northern Kentucky University. Her research is centered on relationships between community dynamics and ecosystem processes in response to human disturbances. Hopfensperger works with undergraduate students and community partners to conduct research on topics including water quality, green infrastructure, greenhouse gas flux and invasive species. Hopfensperger received her Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Maryland.

Wendy Jepson, Professor of Geography, Texas A&M University

Wendy Jepson’s current long-term project examines water insecurity in low-income communities in the U.S. and Latin America. Jepson directs the Texas A&M Water Security Initiative, a university-wide program that facilitates research, education, service learning and collaboration on the broad spectrum of water security challenges. She also co-leads a global study and an emerging cross-disciplinary network of scholars who study household water insecurity (HWISE Network). Jepson received her Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Craig Just, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iowa

Craig Just’s research interests vary widely from freshwater mussels and how they mitigate nitrogen contamination to water resources, food security and energy system design and implementation in resource-constrained communities. Just also helped develop the University of Iowa Public Engagement Grant Program that funded partnerships focused on collaborative interactions and scholarship “for the mutually beneficial exchange, exploration, and application of knowledge, information and resources.” He has a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and science from the University of Iowa.

Michael Kantar, Assistant Professor of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Michael Kantar’s research focuses on the intersection between genomics, agriculture and ecology. His lab’s goal is to examine the complex interactions necessary to create food systems that are more productive, healthy and sustainable. Kantar is currently the communications officer for the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (PBCC), an organization focused on how the public sector contributes to food security, education, and method development for plant breeding. Kantar completed his Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Minnesota

Roger Kjelgren, Director, Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Roger Kjelgren is focused on high value horticulture production and water conservation in urban areas. He previously taught and conducted research on water conservation in irrigated urban landscapes and the water use behaviors of woody and herbaceous plants. Kjelgren was also a Jefferson Science Fellow at the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research where he focused on smallholder agriculture and irrigation in south-southeast Asia. Kjelgren has a Ph.D. in forestry from the University of Washington.

Julie Lesnik, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Wayne State University

Julie Lesnik’s research focuses on food culture and the evolution of the human diet as they relate to edible insects. Lesnik has been a featured speaker at events ranging from youth summer camps to sci-fi and fantasy conventions, given media interviews and organized the first U.S.-based conference dedicated entirely to edible insects. Lesnik received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan.

Alex Racelis, Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Outreach, College of Sciences, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Alex Racelis is an agroecologist, and uses a systems approach to examine the ecological and socio-economic processes embedded in the sustainable management of agricultural and natural resources. In addition to his research, in his role as associate dean for community engagement and outreach he promotes and encourages community and pubic engagement activities, by including these activities in tenure and promotion criteria. Racelis has a Ph.D. in environmental studies from the University of California.

Laura Schmitt Olabisi, Associate Professor of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University

Laura Schmitt Olabisi is a participatory systems modeler. She works directly with stakeholders to build models that foster adaptive learning about the dynamics of coupled human-natural systems and to integrate stakeholder knowledge with academic knowledge. She is currently working in West Africa on climate change adaptation, food security and development projects. She also works in Detroit and Flint, MI, on food security and urban agriculture systems. Schmitt Olabisi holds a doctoral degree in systems ecology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and was a 2016-17 visiting scholar at the RAND Corporation.

Kirsten Schwarz, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Northern Kentucky University

Kirsten Schwarz directs the Ecological Stewardship Institute at Northern Kentucky University. She is an urban ecologist who uses a transdisciplinary systems approach to understand how landscape patterns affect ecosystem services in cities. Community engagement, social justice, and equity are central themes of her research. Currently, Schwarz is leading a research team developing green infrastructure designs for vacant lots in partnership with community members, non-profits, city officials and planners in Newport, KY. Schwarz earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University.

Christopher Scott, Director, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy and Professor of Geography and Development, University of Arizona

Christopher Scott is an interdisciplinary scholar and practitioner whose work focuses on water security, river-basin resilience, groundwater depletion, the water-energy-food nexus, water reuse, transboundary adaptive management, climate resilience and science-policy dialogues. His research and engagement are concentrated in the Southwestern U.S., Mexico, and India, as well as Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Nepal. Scott earned his Ph.D. in hydrology at Cornell University.

Merritt Turetsky, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Integrative Biology, University of Guelph

Merrit Turetsky conducts fundamental ecological research that also is of interest to stakeholders in the north. Northerners are experiencing the most rapid climate change on the planet, and Turetsky’s research is helping to address what these rapid changes mean for their land, traditional foods and water quality. Her research often links ecosystem services and carbon cycle science to water and food security. Turetsky serves as the Canadian University Liaison to NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) and is a founding member of the Permafrost Carbon Network. Turetsky has a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Alberta.

Pei Xu, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, New Mexico State University

Pei Xu develops innovative treatment and desalination technologies for alternative water sources such as municipal wastewater, brackish water, desalination concentrate, oil- and gas-produced water and hydraulic fracturing flowback water. The goal of her research is to address critical water shortage problems in arid and semi-arid regions to improve food and water security. She currently is a principal investigator and co-lead of the Engineering Thrust of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). Xu earned a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the French National School of Forestry.