Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meek is first to earn new PhD

Chanda Meek was prepared for the cold while doing research in Barrow and Wainwright.

Chanda Meek, SNRAS’s first graduate with a PhD in Natural Resources and Sustainability, said the program was perfect for her. “It pulls together the types of tools students need to confront challenges like climate change or social change,” she said. Meek graduated in August and was hired as an assistant professor of political science at UAF.

Meek’s dissertation is titled, "Comparing marine mammal co-management regimes in Alaska: three aspects of institutional performance.” Her work compared the policy implementation process for managing bowhead whale and polar bear subsistence hunting in Alaska, focusing on how and why agency approaches to conservation differ. Meek learned that successful research with communities in Alaska depends on creating a social network. “Your research is only as good as the strength of those relationships,” she said. Her research often took her to Barrow and Wainwright, where she interviewed whaling captains and polar bear hunters about how they interact with regulatory systems.

Her analysis centered on three aspects of institutional performance that drive policy outcomes: historical events, organizational culture, and relationships with stakeholders. Her studies and research were funded with an IGERT Fellowship through the UAF Resilience and Adaptation Program, EPSCoR and graduate school fellowships, and a National Science Foundation dissertation improvement grant.

Associate Professor Gary Kofinas, Meek’s advisor, called her an excellent PhD student. “She worked hard on a set of very important resource management issues and did so with creativity and initiative,” he said. “Chanda developed a deep understanding of the institutional context, legal issues, and cultural issues of Inupiat communities as well as a solid understanding of marine management scientific issues. She assumed student leadership roles in the Resilience and Adaptation Program.”

Meek has a strong orientation to science, plus an understanding of policy science, Kofinas said. “As a new PhD with an interdisciplinary orientation, the world is her oyster,” he said. “UAF is fortunate to hire her; she is smart, skilled, has the potential to be a great teacher, and has a rich knowledge of Alaska that will be a great benefit to the state.”

Meek grew up in a military family, moving around the country. She earned a B.S. in Marine Biology at Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, and a master’s of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto. She worked in California as director of a conservation nonprofit related to the boreal forest and then as a coastal planner for the California Coastal Commission.

Arriving at UAF in 2003, Meek enrolled in the Resilience and Adaptation Program as an interdisciplinary PhD student. When SNRAS began offering its PhD program last year, Meek switched to the Natural Resources and Sustainability Program because she liked the idea of a degree with a title that recognizes that it is from an established program and one that is related to her research. The degree is offered in partnership by SNRAS and the School of Management.

Meek is excited about beginning her career in UAF’s Political Science Department. “Resource problems are social problems,” she said. “In my research agenda I will look at how policies can help sustain communities and the environment. I want to develop a research track that can explore policy aspects of some of the big emerging challenges in Alaska, such as climate change, marine shipping, endangered species, and fund a new generation of student leaders and researchers to work on them at UAF.”

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