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Jia Zheng ‘14 utilizes interdisciplinary approach to research project about climate change

By Contributing Writer on October 10, 2013
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Jia Zheng ‘14 (second from left) discusses her research at a recent Division of University Studies event. With her are  Evan Chartier '14 and Faith Benson.

Jia Zheng ‘14 (second from left) discusses her research at a recent Division of University Studies event with fellow researchers Evan Chartier ’14 and Faith Benson ’14.

Colgate students are sharing their experiences conducting research with faculty members on campus and in the field. This post is by Jia Zheng ‘14, of the Bronx, who is an environmental studies and educational studies double major.

This summer, I was awarded a research apprenticeship through the Division of University Studies. For 10 weeks, I assisted environmental studies professor April Baptiste and educational studies professor Melissa Kagle with a section of their long-term research that focuses on bringing together modern scientific understanding and indigenous understanding of climate change in regions of the Caribbean and the Arctic.

Understanding the relationship between climate-change scientists and native populations in these areas is vital to the study. Scientists can provide evidence-based insights on climate change, but when local communities and vulnerable groups are involved in the research process, they can offer observations and understanding unavailable to those without a deep-rooted knowledge of the local environment.

Under Professor Kagle’s guidance, I worked on the preparatory stages of my professors’ research. This included finding a list of academic journals that will be most appropriate for the scholarly articles Professor Baptiste and Professor Kagle are writing. I sought out, read and annotated these numerous peer-reviewed journal articles that helped validate the framework that my professors are using—a research model that measures the collaboration between the indigenous and local peoples’ traditional ecological knowledge and the scientists’ ecological knowledge, through the scope of the Arctic and regions in the Caribbean.

I also worked on and completed a draft of a National Science Foundation grant proposal to obtain further funding for my professors’ long-term interdisciplinary climate change study.

Another one of my projects included researching vulnerability indices for native fishers in the Caribbean. I sought out this information to demonstrate the lack of the cognitive component of local knowledge in existing indices, which further emphasizes that incorporating local populations’ perspectives on climate change is a valid and important form of data.

In order to fully understand the multifaceted aspects of climate change, it was necessary that I saw each of my projects not in isolation, but rather in dialogue with one another.

The literature I read reaffirmed the fact that despite the divide we sometimes see between the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, there are more connections across different disciplines than we think.

I found this experience to be intellectually rewarding and I will continue to benefit from my interdisciplinary work as I assist Professor Baptiste with her research throughout the year.

— Jia Zheng ‘14

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