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Sustainability grad focuses on water management


May 6, 2014

How will global changes increase the need for better water management in the coming years? Ben Warner, who will receive his doctorate in sustainability from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, investigated the causes of water scarcity in his field research.

In a rural, semi-arid region of northwestern Costa Rica, Warner worked directly with water and agricultural managers. His findings have since been used to refine current water management policy in the region. Ben Warner posing surrounded by greenery in Costa Rica Download Full Image

After a post-doctoral stint at the University of Massachusetts, Warner plans to work as a consultant on water scarcity, as well as continue his research.

In Costa Rica, Warner found that drought and international trade liberalization treaties have had a major impact on small farmers.

“I found that Costa Rica’s 1983 economic restructuring limited smallholder farmers’ livelihood options to only rice production,” he says. “Recent threats of trade liberalization stemming from Costa Rica’s ratification of Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) have limited their ability to gain access to domestic rice markets.”

The economic impact combined with increasing drought in northwestern Costa Rica resulted in greater vulnerability to global changes and the power to adapt to them.

“Smallholder farmers’ livelihoods have been greatly diminished, and large rice and sugarcane farms are now more profitable,” he says.

As Warner sought how to increase farmers’ ability to cope with limited market access and increasing drought, he collected data from workshop proceedings, focus groups, interviews and surveys from small farming households within the Arenal-Tempisque Irrigation Project in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

His analysis revealed that farm size, farming tenure, the presence of family members working outside of the agricultural sector, livestock ownership, perceptions of climate change and household reliance on agriculture were determining factors in farmers’ decisions to adjust their livelihoods. His work contributed to a multi-organizational effort to reshape agricultural water policy in northwest Costa Rica.

After Warner earned a civil engineering degree at Purdue University, he worked as a consultant designing large-scale water infrastructure projects. Then, he found himself drawn to ASU for his doctorate because of the university’s approach to interdisciplinary studies in the field of water sustainability.

“My program supports research in the interactions between rural development and large-scale water infrastructure. This interdisciplinary focus is not the norm across universities, but it is becoming more accepted.”

Warner was awarded the Graduate Completion Fellowship in spring 2014 to complete his dissertation.

Written by Michele St George

Student makes the most of college by taking challenging math, economic courses


May 6, 2014

Working as a cook at a local fast-food restaurant proved to be a pivotal turning point in Alasdair Martin’s life when he realized he didn’t want to serve French fries for eternity.

“I asked myself, ‘Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life?’" he said. portrait of Alasdair Martin Download Full Image

Now Martin is graduating from Arizona State University with a dual degree in economics and mathematics, as well as a career goal of becoming an economics professor. He also earned the honor of being named Department of Economics Dean’s Medalist this year.

“I feel quite flattered to receive this award,” said Martin, whose hometown is Cave Creek.

Taking the most challenging courses in his majors was a hallmark of Martin’s years at ASU. He also upped the ante by enrolling in two doctoral level courses.

“Especially during my sophomore year, I started taking math courses to see if I could do it. It turned out that I could,” he said.

Taking doctoral-level courses can be compared to doubling or tripling the work of an undergraduate course while diving deep into the mechanics of the material, Martin added.

“It was a process of learning to work even harder than you were before,” he said.

Challenging undergraduate courses that he enrolled in covered subjects such as econometrics, game theory, advanced honors microeconomics and mathematical economics. Taking higher level math courses is a key aspect in “building a tool box” to use later in life, while courses such as econometrics taught him skills in making estimations in economic parameters.

Martin is attending the California Institute of Technology in the fall to pursue his dream of earning his doctoral degree. During his years at ASU, he was also named an Edward Rondthaler Scholar and a JP Morgan Chase Scholar, both in the Department of Economics.

“I have always had my eye on economics since my senior year of high school. I like how rigorous and precise it is,” he said.

Earning a scholarship that paid for his tuition at an Arizona school enabled Martin to go to ASU. He quickly discovered the university was a great place for him.

“I feel that this is the best choice, especially for what I want to do. ASU has a superior economics program,” Martin said.

Attending ASU also provided Martin with an academically rigorous education as he worked with professors who not only challenged him, but encouraged him to pursue his dreams.

“I really liked the courses in mathematical economics. The professor for that course really built up my confidence to make a decision to pursue graduate studies because I was doing well,” Martin said.

When Martin isn’t excelling in his studies or networking with his peers in the Student Economics Association, he plays the bagpipes with the Mesa Caledonian Pipe Band. Playing the bagpipes takes endurance and an appreciation for music that poses a contradiction to the strict rules found in mathematics and economics.

“It’s very different from a standard instrument. The way that the music is written is not necessarily the way it is played. It’s much more imprecise,” he said.