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June 25, 2019

The Gund Institute for Environment at UVM is welcoming ten community members, including a new Director of Policy Outreach, four postdoctoral researchers, and five PhD students.

Joining the Institute as Director of Policy Outreach is Stephen Posner, the former Assistant Director of Policy Engagement at COMPASS, where he worked in Washington, D.C., to help researchers increase their impact through strategic outreach, global networking, training, and coaching. He will join the Gund leadership team

Posner is a UVM alum and Gund Global Affiliate, whose research on science policy has appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesNature Communications, and Environmental Science & Policy. He will envision and lead a new policy outreach program to connect Gund research with leaders in government, business, and NGOs – internationally, nationally and in Vermont.

“We are very excited to welcome Stephen back to UVM,” says Taylor Ricketts, Director of the Gund Institute. “He returns with an impressive record of sophisticated policy outreach, and a global network that will help Gund scholars impact real-world policy and management decisions, forge new strategic partnerships, and advance our reputation as a leader in cutting-edge environmental expertise and solutions.”

The nine incoming PhD students and postdoctoral researchers – all recipients of Gund assistantships – come from Pakistan, Mexico, and the U.S., including Puerto Rico. They will pursue interdisciplinary research with Gund Fellows across UVM, tackling urgent environmental issues across four Gund themes: climate solutions, sustainable agriculture, health and well-being and resilient communities.

“This was a very competitive round of fellowships, and we’re excited to welcome this impressive cohort to our global research network,” says Ricketts. “Together, they will accelerate cross-cutting research on critical issues here at UVM and far beyond.”


Stephen Posner is the Gund Institute’s new Director of Policy Outreach. He was previously Assistant Director of Policy Engagement at COMPASS, where he helped researchers increase their impact through strategic outreach, global networking, training and coaching. Previously, Posner consulted with global companies and measured how they impact – and depend on – nature. He has a Ph.D. in natural resources from UVM, a B.S. in astronomy and physics from Haverford College, and he completed graduate study in science education at Stanford University.

Gund Postdoctoral Fellows

Matthew Burke (Rubenstein) will study the integration of novel solar installations into the ecological and agricultural functions of working landscapes. He hopes to find a balance between the ecological needs of landscapes and increasing demand for renewable energy. Burke will collaborate with Leadership for the Ecozoic to create place-based research-to-action projects, and build on his previous work with The Next System Project. He will collaborate with Jon Erickson (Rubenstein) and Stephanie Hurley (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences).

Andrew Christ (College of Arts and Sciences) will investigate the past behavior of the Greenland Ice Sheet by examining sediments deposited in the ocean by glaciers.  This information is critical to understanding the response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to rapid climate warming and its global consequences for sea level rise.  He will be mentored by Paul Bierman (Geology and Natural Resources).

Alejandra Guzmán Luna (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) will continue her work on agroecology, studying on-farm diversification as a means of overcoming food insecurity for smallholder coffee producers in Latin America. Guzmán Luna’s research proposes that coffee farmers can combat seasonal food insecurity through the right mix of diverse farming strategies, including both market and food crops. She will be supervised by Ernesto Méndez (Plant and Soil Science). 

Luz de Wit (Rubenstein) will study the combined impact of invasive species and ecosystem degradation on the emergence of infectious diseases that spread between animals and humans. Using the snail-borne rat lungworm disease, de Wit will investigate how the management of invasive species and ecosystems can improve both biodiversity and human health. She will be mentored by Taylor Ricketts.

Gund PhD Assistantships

Mahalia Clark (Rubenstein) plans to study the relationships between agriculture, climate change, and food security. Through her research, Clark hopes to discover ways for farmers to maximize yield while minimizing their environmental impact. She will be supervised by Gillian Galford

Carolyn Hricko (Food Systems) is interested in the interactions between diet, health, agriculture and the environment. She plans to explore the policy and agriculture impacts of shifts toward more plant-rich dietary patterns. Hricko will be supervised by Meredith Niles (Nutrition and Food Sciences and Food Systems).

Ali Javed (CEMS) plans to use machine learning and other computer science methods to address the challenges presented by big data in the environmental and hydrological science communities. In doing so, Javed hopes to improve understanding of hydrological storm events and guide future research and policy. will be supervised by Donna Rizzo.  

Jeremy Matt (CEMS) aims to use machine learning and geostatistical tools to predict and prevent, rather than mitigate, environmental hazards. Matt’s interests include human and planetary health and resiliency. He will be supervised by Donna Rizzo.  

Aura Alonso-Rodríguez (Rubenstein) is interested in research that investigates how human activities and global change impact natural ecosystems. Alonso-Rodríguez plans to use her time with the Gund to evaluate methods of improving agriculture and research management in tropical landscapes without threatening ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation. She will be supervised by Taylor Ricketts.  

Javed and Matt are inaugural recipients of Gund Barrett PhD Assistantships, a partnership between the Gund Institute and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), supported by the Richard Barrett Foundation.

About the Gund Institute

The Gund Institute for Environment catalyzes environmental research, develops real-world solutions to global issues, and connects UVM with leaders in government, business and beyond. Based at the University of Vermont, the Gund Institute is comprised of 150 faculty, global affiliates, postdocs, and graduate students who collaborate widely, focusing on environmental issues at the interface of four pressing themes: climate solutions, health and well-being, sustainable agriculture, and resilient communities. Learn more at or follow on and Twitter @GundInstitute.

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