The School of Earth & Sustainability (SES) at the University of Massachusetts is guided by a collaborative steering committee with representation from across the member departments. Additionally, SES is supported by a small, dedicated team of staff with specialized experience to advance the goals and initiatives championed by the school.
SES Steering Committee
Curt Griffin is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, the Department Head of Environmental Conservation, and the Founding Director of the School of Earth & Sustainability at UMass Amherst. His interdisciplinary research and conservation efforts have spanned five continents, from work with elephants in Africa and Southeast Asia to sea turtles and whale sharks in the Caribbean. His current research efforts focus on assessing the effects of climate change and offshore wind energy facilities on wildlife. He also has a strong commitment to and involvement in development of local, state, national, and international policies relating to wetlands protection, endangered species management, and conservation of biological diversity. As Co-Director of SES, Curt is committed to making SES the campus leader for fostering interdisciplinary education, research, and outreach programs that advance sustainability in the natural and built environments, and making UMass Amherst the destination of choice for students, faculty and partners interested in sustainability.
Rob DeConto is a Professor of Geosciences and Co-Director of the School of Earth & Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Previously, he held research positions at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rob studies polar climate change, the response of ice sheets to a warming climate, and coastal impacts of sea-level rise. Rob serves on international science advisory boards and is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Director of Stockbridge School of Agriculture
Wes Autio grew up in a rural/tourist part of western Maine and attended the University of Maine for two years. He received his B.S. degree in Horticulture from Virginia Tech and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant & Soil Sciences (Postharvest Pomology) from UMass. In 1985, he joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts. Until recently, he served as the UMass Fruit Program Leader. He regularly interacts with tree-fruit farmers and the many individuals interested in tree fruit in the landscape. His research focuses on apple and peach rootstocks, controlling growth apple trees with mechanical and hormonal approaches, and chemical thinning of peaches. He teaches courses in pruning fruit crops for undergraduates and in statistical analysis for graduate students. Because of his extensive experience with experimental design and statistical analysis, he is involved with number research projects and serves on numerous graduate committees with the sole purpose of providing guidance in design and analysis. Currently, he serves as Director of the newly reconfigured Stockbridge School of Agriculture. In that capacity, he leads efforts to strengthen educational, research, and outreach programs from the Stockbridge School.
Camille Barchers has practiced as a regional planner throughout Florida, the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. Prior to joining University of Massachusetts, Camille taught in the Leadership Education and Development program at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she also received her PhD in City & Regional Planning. Camille’s work examines how planners use technology and how it changes the way we engage with the public. Her research interests include big data applications for long-range planning, internet communication tools, and land use planning. She has a BS in Natural Resources and a Master of Regional Planning from Cornell University.
Forrest’s research investigates how students learn GIS, especially in the growing field of CyberGIS. Through analysis of curriculum and instruction in GIS, Forrest aims to build an evidence-based understanding of how GIS programs function, and what knowledge, skills, and practices make up the GIS degree. He has additional research interest in geography education, geography in higher education, resources of the elements, and tropical glaciers.
Stephen Burns joined the Geosciences Department at UMass after 11 years at the University of Bern in Switzerland. He recieved his M.S. from the University of North Carolina studying carbonate sedimentology and Ph.D. at Duke University on dolomite geochemistry. Recent research is focused on developing records of climate change on the continents. His research is aimed at producing quantitative estimates of climate change from continental areas at high enough resolution to be able to determine the driving forces behind climate variability at various timescales. In previous projects in Oman and Yemen his research has produced records of changes in precipitation that extend back over several hundred thousand years. He has done similar work in Brazil and the Peruvian Andes. He has three current research projects that use speleothems to investigate climate variability.
Brian Cheng is a field ecologist who asks questions in coastal marine ecosystems. His research focuses on the intersection of climate change, biological invasion, and the interaction among species (e.g. predation). He uses experimental and observational approaches to understand what makes natural ecosystems tick. At UMass Amherst, much of his activity is based out of the Gloucester Marine Station, a marine lab located 1 hour north of Boston. The marine station is an ideal staging area for climate change research in the Gulf of Maine, which is warming faster than 99% of planet Earth. Research in his lab also addresses broad scale questions in marine ecology using meta-analysis approaches, synthesizing data across disparate sources to address general questions in nature.
Professor of Plant Pathology
Stockbridge School of Agriculture
Dan Cooley’s research and Extension program focuses on using integrated pest management to more efficiently and effectively manage diseases of fruit, particularly apples. The goal is to enhance the sustainability of apple production by minimizing or eliminating the use of toxic fungicides. This is accomplished by understanding the biology and ecology of important pathogens and using environmentally driven risk forecast models to guide fungicide applications. In addition, his work emphasizes the use of non-chemical alternatives to reduce disease pressure. He also works with colleagues at other institutions to develop and deliver web-based decision support tools to growers, including most recently apps for mobile devices. In addition, he has worked with a private non-profit to develop an advanced IPM production system for apples that markets fruit under the Eco Apple label. He has recently been investigating disease forecast model failures caused by changes in weather patterns in the Northeastern US.
The overarching theme of Dr. Danylchuk’s research is to understand the factors that naturally influence the life history and ecology of fishes and other aquatic organisms, as well as how natural and anthropogenic disturbances can influence the dynamics of their populations.His work spans both marine and freshwater systems, and includes stress physiology, behavioral ecology, spatial ecology, predator-prey interactions, and adaptations in life history traits as a response to disturbance.Much of Dr. Danylchuk’s research focuses on evaluating the potential impacts of recreational angling on fish populations, and working with stakeholder groups to develop best practices for the recreational angling community.Some of this work involves the use of telemetry and associated emerging technologies to understand the ways fish function under ‘normal’ and disturbed conditions, and combines the results of these studies with laboratory and field manipulations to identity specific mechanistic causes of stress in fish. Dr. Danylchuk is also interested in sustainable aquaculture and the development of integrated food production models as a mechanism to reduce impacts on fish stocks and local, regional, and global ecosystems. He is also a strong proponent of experiential, hands-on opportunities that can enhance learning for students of all ages
James Holden’s research focuses on high-temperature microbes that grow in hydrothermal environments in the deep sea. Specifically, he is interested in microbial life in the Earth's crust that lives without sunlight or oxygen, the search for life on Earth and elsewhere, numerical modeling of microbial metabolism, microbe-mineral interactions, and the application of thermophiles in bioremediation and bioenergy. He has participated in two dozen oceanographic expeditions and made 11 trips to the bottom of the ocean in the deep-sea submarine Alvin. He earned his Ph.D. in Oceanography at the University of Washington and was a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia.
Ashley Keiser is an ecosystem ecologist working at the interface of above- and below-ground communities. Her research explores local, mechanism-driven questions that help advance ecological theory regarding soil microbial community function, and landscape-level biogeochemical inquiries that link ecosystem function with land management decisions. Overall, her work expands our understanding of how soil microbial communities function and interact with the environment, exhibited through carbon and nitrogen dynamics. Ashley comes to UMass Amherst from the University of Minnesota where she held a NatureNet Science Fellowship. She holds a B.S. in environmental conservation from the University of New Hampshire and a Ph.D. from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Klaus Nüsslein's research interests are focused on (I) the adaptation of microbial community structure and activity to external stress factors, and (II) the role microorganisms play in biogeochemical cycles. To aid his research he currently focuses on three defined terrestrial microbial systems: The lack of electron donors in deep subsurface systems, the stress of land use change and intensive agriculture on soil systems, and the extreme conditions in sediments under acid mine drainage.
A first-generation college student who grew up sandwiched between farms and suburbia in southeast Pennsylvania, Steve Petsch graduated from Penn State in 1994 with a B.S. in Geosciences and a keen interest in the interplay between chemistry, biology and the Earth. His Ph.D. dissertation from Yale University examined
long-term geochemical cycles of carbon and oxygen, leading to improved understanding of the geologic history of our atmosphere. After two years as a postdoc at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Steve joined the faculty at UMass in 2002. His work combines lab, field and modelling studies, and has investigated Earth's deep subsurface biosphere, soil formation, and carbon transformations from rocks to rivers to oceans. He also works to improve the student experience for UMass undergrads and graduate students, facilitating pedagogy and curriculum reform in Geosciences both at UMass and nationally.
Dr. Renski’s research focuses on understanding the forces driving regional economic competitiveness and transformation, and building upon this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of economic development policy. His current work examines regional influences on entrepreneurship; empirical tests of agglomeration theory; industrial cluster analysis and cluster-based development strategies; and the application of spatial-analytical techniques to local economic policy decision-making. Prior to joining LARP, Dr. Renski worked as a Special Assistant to the Governor of the State of Maine as both the Deputy Program Manager of Maine’s WIRED (Workforce Innovations in Economic Development) initiative and as a Research Economist with the Maine State Planning Office.
Robert Ryan's research addresses the question: what motivates people to become engaged in sustainable landscape design, planning and management practices that benefit the environment and how does that affect their attitudes and behaviors in the landscape? His studies in urban parks, rural landscapes, and national forests have shown that people’s connection to nearby nature or landscape (i.e, place attachment) is critical to developing better land stewardship. A key part of this work has been to understand the landscape patterns that are both ecologically beneficial, as well as perceived as beautiful by local residents. In addition, his research has shown that place attachment can help promote connections between local residents and urban parks, particularly those undergoing ecological restoration. His research has focuses on visual resource management, greenway and green infrastructure planning, and sustainable site design. He is a senior researcher on the UMass interdisciplinary graduate education research (IGERT) project to study off-shore wind energy facilities.
Combining backgrounds in structural engineering, wood science, and digital design, Alex Schreyer’s interests span the entire range of planning, design, and execution of buildings and structures. He specializes in the design and construction of mainly heavy-timber type (e.g. glulam) structural systems. This is complemented by a strong interest in technology applications and web-based solutions in structural engineering, construction, and architecture. In his research, Mr. Schreyer focuses on the behavior of wood-based structural systems with a particular interest in innovative connection systems for wooden structures. Other foci are the development of software-based approaches in digital design and structural optimization as well as interactive web-based tools.
Darci Connor Maresca
School of Earth & Sustainability
For more than fifteen years, Darci Connor Maresca has facilitated meaningful change through a transdisciplinary approach to environmental programs and sustainability initiatives. At UMass Amherst, Darci is responsible for curating the long-term goals, overseeing the day-to-day operations, building vibrant partnerships, and implementing priorities for the School of Earth & Sustainability. A central part of Darci's role is to build capacity and assemble high-impact collaborative teams. Darci also advances the academic mission of the university through her leadership role as Interim Graduate Program Director with the MS Sustainability Science Program. All of her work at UMass relies on strong partnerships with university officials, campus colleagues, alumni, regional organizations, and workforce leaders. Darci earned her Master of Science in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University in 2007. To learn more about Darci's experience, click here.
School of Earth & Sustainability
Coming from Upstate New York, Courtney Crossgrove is a graduate of the Sustainability Science Master's program with a concentration in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. She works alongside SES leadership and staff to support key initiatives and programming. Courtney is also responsible for coordinating student engagement, and developing collateral and marketing materials. As a proponent of interdisciplinary education, she is excited to help further SES's mission by connecting students and faculty across multiple disciplines.