Michael Mendez, left, and Sarah Vaughn
The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) has selected two scholars to serve as the School’s first James & Mary Pinchot Fellows in Sustainability Studies.
Michael Mendez, a postdoctoral scholar and instructor at the University of San Francisco, and Sarah Vaughn, a Public Fellow for the American Council of Learned Societies, will begin their three-year fellowships during the summer of 2016.
The new Fellowship was introduced to attract emerging scholars and early career faculty who will enrich the quality of the School’s scholarship and contribute to the diversification of the field of environmental and sustainability studies. They were selected from more than 200 applicants.
“We are very pleased that Dr. Vaughn and Dr. Mendez will be joining the F&ES community,” said F&ES Dean Peter Crane. “They have a huge amount to offer to the School, and we look forward to welcoming them to New Haven.”
Michael Mendez, who is currently the Gerardo Marin Postdoctoral Scholar and an instructor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, investigates how the built environment, policymaking process, and social movements influence sustainability and population health in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
He spent more than a decade working in the public and private sectors in California, including as senior consultant to the state legislature's Assembly Select Committee on Environmental Justice and as vice chair of Sacramento’s Planning Commission. In these roles, he conducted applied research and actively engaged in policymaking.
“I worked on the larger macro policy scale, examining how governments, social movements, and individuals can influence policy to make change at the community level,” he says.
He shifted to the academic world, he said, to help create new scholarly research that can influence the policymaking process and to train the next generation of environmental leaders.
Mendez was attracted to Yale because of its record of training environmental leaders and its strength in combining theory and practice. “I’m also really excited to be working with the students at F&ES and practicum courses dealing with these issues of social equity and environmental justice.”
He holds three degrees in environmental planning and community economic development, including a Ph.D. From UC Berkeley's Department of City and Regional Planning.
Sarah Vaughn is an anthropologist who currently serves as a Public Fellow for the American Council of Learned Societies, a nonprofit federation of scholarly organizations exploring the humanities and related social sciences.
She is also a Research Affiliate with the Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University and a former Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University
Her doctoral dissertation, Vulnerable Publics: Climate and Property in Guyana, is an ethnographic study of the effects of climate change on racial citizenship. Her research explored how the government response to climate change — which drew upon recommendations from outside actors — disrupted the country’s delicate racial-ethnic balance.
Vaughn, who became interested in Guyana as an undergraduate at Cornell, says she was shocked by the high-risk coastal landscape during her first visit. “Even in Georgetown, the urban capital, I was taken aback by how much it’s still marked by irrigation and drainage grids,” she said. “When I saw that landscape, it was so unfamiliar to me that I just had to write something about it.”
One of the main takeaways, she says, is that in places like Guyana the threats of climate change cannot be considered simply during major events, such as a drought or the rain season. It’s something that must be considered in the context of daily life.
At Yale, she looks forward to working closely with social science scholars from across F&ES and Yale University. In fact, she says it was the emphasis on interdisciplinary research that attracted her to Yale.
“For an anthropologist, this is one of the top programs if you’re interested in working through a social sciences perspective on environmental studies,” she said. “But I didn’t realize until I visited there how integrated it is. There’s real dialogue and communication between the different sub-fields within the school and other departments across Yale, which is quite exciting.”