New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Diya Paul Leads Cottey’s Environmental Studies Program

Dr. Paul's field area in the Eastern Ghats


Dr. Diya Paul, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, joined the Cottey College faculty in fall of 2018. An expert on political ecology and land use science, Dr. Paul is teaching introductory and advanced courses in environmental studies. She is also program coordinator of the environmental studies program. Her experience goes far beyond the simple label of environmental studies, however, with an interdisciplinary background that encompasses economics, geography, social work, physical sciences and more.

In fact, Dr. Paul’s first career was in social work, focusing on the intersection of people and the environment. After earning a master’s in social work from the Delhi School of Social Work, she spent eight years working in the development and non-governmental organization sector in India.

This work brought Dr. Paul face-to-face with the way that human and wildlife communities interact and overlap and the impact of ecology and the environment on people’s day-to-day lives. While her work focused on the human element of these interactions, she found herself increasingly fascinated by the ecological aspect, too. So she decided to return to school and earn another advanced degree.

Geography is an incredibly versatile field, Dr. Paul explains, because it encourages multidisciplinary research like her own. “Geography research is anything to do with the physical and social landscape,” she says. “There are scientists who study health, mining, rural communities.”

For Dr. Paul, geography was a great fit because it allowed her to focus on environmental studies in the context of both social and physical sciences. Here’s how she describes her research: “I employ mixed methods to understand wildlife presence in lived landscapes — human/wildlife coexistence/conflict, land-use practices, conservation politics, and the ambiguities of categories used to describe forests in semi-arid landscapes.”

Her dissertation research at Rutgers University examined the presence of wildlife in community-managed forests in southern India. The wildlife in these forests aren’t protected, as they would be in a conservation area or national park. “I mapped the presence of animals,” she says. “That means looking for a lot of animal scat, basically.” She also talked to farmers and the local community to collect data on sightings and the routines of human-animal coexistence. “I found there are strategies that local community members already have in order to deal with wildlife and avoid conflicts.”
Here in Nevada, Missouri, the particulars are different, but some of the same principles with rural communities and pervasive wildlife apply. As Dr. Paul establishes her work here at Cottey, she may have an opportunity to explore how human-animal interactions and ecologies play out in Vernon County. 

During the fall semester, Dr. Paul taught an introduction to environmental studies course, as well as a more advanced course in ecosystems function and management. This semester (Spring 2019), she is teaching Ecosystems, Function and Management again, along with Environmental Conditions and Global Economic Development (ENV 350), Environmental Justice (ENV 365), and a capstone research project for seniors.
Dr. Paul holds a doctorate in geography from Rutgers University and a master’s in geography from Oklahoma State University. Her hobbies include reading, baking, bird watching and visits to natural areas.

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