Christina Puzzolo is a current SGPIA student who is slated to graduate in May 2017. She has recently been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and will be studying the Blue Economy in the Phillipines after graduation.

What follows is a short interview about her work. The interview was lightly edited for clarity.

Christina Puzzolo in Southern Kenya, Summer 2016. Photo credit: Kathleen Godfrey
Christina Puzzolo in Southern Kenya, Summer 2016. Photo credit: Kathleen Godfrey

Can you talk a bit about your background?

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois and moved to Montreal, Quebec to study Biodiversity Conservation and International Development at McGill University for my undergrad. I spent two summers in the arctic of Sweden assisting with Climate Change research on the effects of permafrost thaw in Northern Peatlands. In my last semester at McGill, I participated in a field study in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where I studied wildlife conservation and rural development. I moved to New York City to start my Master’s [in International Affairs] at The New School.

 

Why did you choose SGPIA?

I chose SGPIA because of its critical approach to international relations and its focus on providing students with hands-on experiences. I also liked the program’s flexibility, which allows me to shape my degree around my specific interests, while also creating space for me to try new things. Being in New York City also helped with my decision to come here, because a lot of the international and non-profit organizations I was interested in are based here.

 

What are your research interests?

I am in the Governance & Rights concentration. Generally speaking, I am interested in environmental governance, natural resource management, and the ways in which humans interact with their surrounding environments. Since these processes are highly political and closely tied to questions of economic development, human rights, and access to resources, studying them offers valuable insight to better understand the more specific ecological and social challenges I am interested in.

 

Does your Master’s thesis investigate these same themes?

My thesis is on the history of wildlife conservation in southern Kenya. I explore the transformation of conservation from a centralized wilderness project implemented during colonialism, to a decentralized, community-based endeavor associated with the notions of inclusivity and participation. To examine the emergence of this new “post-wilderness” era of conservation, I trace the administrative history of land use and its trend toward privatization. This topic was inspired by my experience last summer as an intern for Institutional Canopy of Conservation in collaboration with the African Conservation Centre. I was working at the Lale’enok Resource Centre in Olkiramatian, Kenya, where I was exposed to both the challenges and opportunities of small-scale wildlife conservation efforts.

 

You were recently awarded the Fulbright Scholarship – can you talk about your decision to apply & your experience of the application process?

Applying for a Fulbright never crossed my mind until last March when I saw an email from Vanessa Reich, the Assistant Director of Student Affairs at the School of Public Engagement, announcing that the application cycle had just opened. I didn’t know much about the program or what the application process was like, so I attended a few information sessions to learn more. I was so impressed by the amount of support and guidance The New School offered throughout the entire application process, that I thought “Why not go for this?” I had been interested in gaining research experience in marine resource management for a while and thought this could be a great opportunity to do so.

I was already in contact with a professor at the University of Melbourne whose research I was interested in, so I emailed him and asked if he would help me develop a project for this grant. I was so surprised when he said “yes!” In the months that followed, with support from him and his colleagues in the Philippines (where my research would be based), I designed a project that would examine the distributional consequences of seaweed farming in coastal communities.

Vanessa was super encouraging throughout the entire process, and she helped me to align my proposal with the overall objectives of the Fulbright Program. Additionally, I received a lot of support and guidance from professors at the Milano School, including Manjari Mahajan, Antina von Schnitzler, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, and Ana Baptisa. The whole process was very long (I submitted my final application at the beginning of September), but the time allowed me to collaborate with a lot of amazing people and create a proposal I was proud of.

 

Can you describe your Fulbright research in greater detail?

My project will investigate the lived experiences of the Blue Economy, a marine-based economic paradigm that has recently emerged in the global environmental arena as an approach to sustainable development. Specifically, I will examine the distributional consequences—the benefits and burdens—of value-added seaweed farming in the coastal Philippines. Within this discourse, adding value to, and creating a market for, seaweed is understood to both financially benefit coastal fishers and improve the health of their surrounding marine ecosystems. I focus on San Vicente, a municipality on the island of Palawan, where I seek to identify and evaluate the factors influencing local residents’ ability to benefit from the endorsed potential of seaweed farming. I will be working with a professor at Palawan State University and a few professors based in Australian universities to conduct this research.

 

What do you hope will be the outcome of your research?

I hope the findings from my Fulbright research in the Philippines can provide a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the blue economy at play in a local context. Since my project is affiliated with Center for Strategic Policy and Governance at Palawan State, I hope this research can promote and contribute to the development of more inclusive and equitable environmental policies.

 

What advice do you have for incoming or prospective SGPIA students?

There are so many ways to get involved and opportunities to take advantage of here at SGPIA, such as applying to Fulbright, that I would recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. The program provides an incredibly supportive environment that allows you to continuously challenge yourself in new and different ways.

 

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Christina Puzzolo loves camping and spent most of her summers as a teenager on extensive backpacking and canoeing trips in Alaska and northern Canada. One of her favorite places in New York City is the New York Transit Museum. If she’s not at a library studying, she is most likely wandering around the Union Square farmer’s market or exploring food markets in Queens.

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