Cara Steger, PhD candidate in Ecology

Cara trying to find cell reception to upload results during fieldwork in Kenya.

Education & Experience

2015 – Present: PhD Student at Colorado State University
2015 – Present: Research Fellow, National Science Foundation IGERT I-WATER Program
2014 – 2015: Research Associate at the University of Michigan Water Center
2012 – 2014: M.S. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
2010 – 2012: U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer | Senegal
2005 – 2009: B.S. University of Illinois, Champaign – Urbana

My Interests

My research engages at the intersection of human and physical geography. For my dissertation, I will use participatory modeling approaches to study patterns of ecosystem services demand, supply, and use in the highlands of Ethiopia. I have a special focus on water, as Ethiopia contains the headwaters of many important rivers in East and North Africa, including the Blue Nile. I am attracted to problems that require a range of tools and methods to analyze them properly, resulting in mixed-methods research. Academically, I am interested in GIS, remote sensing, statistical modeling, land use land cover change, gender and international development. Personally, I love breakfast food, my cat, long bike rides, and I am constantly planning my next trip!

How I became a scientist

I am a scientist primarily because I love to learn and explore. I actually started at Illinois as an English major, but as I thought more about the kind of career I wanted I realized I wouldn’t be satisfied just writing about science – I wanted to be the one asking the questions! So I got my B.S. in Forest Science , after which I served for two years as a Environmental Education Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal. My Peace Corps experience catalyzed my interest in extension into an academic career dedicated to merging the often oppositional goals of conservation and development. I then pursued my Master’s degree in Conservation Ecology and Environmental Informatics (GIS/Remote Sensing/modeling) , with a thesis that tested the reliability of data produced by citizen scientists in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. After my Master’s, I worked for one year as a modeler on Laurentian Great Lakes issues (e.g. harmful algal blooms, invasive mussels) at the University of Michigan’s Water Center using techniques like Bayesian hierarchical modeling, boosted regression tree analysis, and spatial statistics. I quickly learned– again – that I wanted to be the one driving my research, so I decided to apply to PhD programs…and here I am!

How my research benefits society

I am committed to a career that democratizes science, formalizing ways to integrate local and scientific knowledge. For example, in Ethiopia I will work with rural African communities to help make their voices heard by policy makers in the capital. I will do this through map-making exercises, workshops with diverse groups of people, and models that show the environmental and social impact of incorporating local knowledge into land management plans.