Dr. Zhao Ma

Associate Professor of Natural Resource Social Science

As a natural resource social scientist, the overarching goal of my research is to contribute to knowledge that improves individual and organizational capacity to make natural resource decisions to adapt to social-ecological change at various scales. Specifically, my research lies at the intersection of political ecology and social psychology, and examines natural resource decision making processes of two types of actors, individuals and organizations. I ask questions about (1) how individuals and organizations perceive social-ecological changes and the associated natural resource challenges at various scales, (2) how individuals and organizations respond to social-ecological changes and address the associated natural resource challenges, (3) how various ecological, climatic, social, economic, political, and cultural factors influence decision making by individuals and within organizations, and (4) what intended and unintended impacts may result from individual and organizational natural resource decisions. Broadly speaking, my research provides insights into what information, assistance, and incentives may be helpful for promoting sustainable natural resource decisions by individuals, and how individual attitudes and behaviors across the landscape and over time cumulatively affect the effectiveness of various natural resource policies and programs.

I have been at Purdue since 2013, and was previously on faculty at Utah State University. I was a post-doctoral fellow in the Family Forest Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I obtained my Ph.D. in Natural Resource Science and Management from the University of Minnesota, M.A. in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University, and BS in Material Physics from the University of Science and Technology Beijing. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities to work with so many great scholars, students and practitioners, who have greatly shaped my thinking about the social-ecological world we all live in and my pursuit of natural resource social science research.

Current Graduate students

Mysha Clarke

Mysha ClarkeMysha is currently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Project description: Investigating the human dimensions of invasive plants management on non-industrial private forestlands.

Education: B.A., Economics, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, MI (2013).

Email: clarke15@purdue.edu

Landon Young

Landon YoungLandon is currently pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering.

Project description: Examining resilience of water infrastructure and institutions in the context of water-related shocks in Malawi.

Education: B.S., Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2011); M.S., Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences & Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN (2012).

Email: lgyoung@purdue.edu

Rebecca (Becca) Nixon

Becca is currently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science through the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences and Engineering Graduate Program.

Rebekah Ohara

Rebekah is currently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Social Science.

Jason (Jake) Hawes

Jake is currently pursuing a MS in Natural Resource Social Science through the Interdisciplinary Ecological Sciences and Engineering Graduate Program.

Jennifer (Jenn) Domenech

Jenn is currently pursuing a MS in Natural Resource Social Science.

Kimberly Ordonez

Kimberly will be starting a MS in Natural Resource Social Science in January 2018.

Post-doctoral research associate

Dr. Becky Barak


Undergraduate research assistants

Austin Scheetz

Sophomore majoring in Natural Resource & Environmental Science; Purdue Student Government; Director of Sustainability: Strategic Planningand Assessment; PSG Committee on Sustainability Chair

Priyanka Shankar

Sophomore majoring in Sustainable Biomaterials

Morgan Grey


Visiting scholars and students

Zelin Wang


Former Lab Members

Dr. Diana Steele-Jones

Diana was a post-doctoral research associate from 2016 to 2017. She obtained her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Purdue University in 2015. Diana is currently an independent consultant and her website is: https://dianasteele.squarespace.com/

Keri Iles

Keri was a MS in Natural Resource Social Science from 2015 to 2017, and her thesis was about small-scale farming in Indiana with a focus on farmer identity and community and how those interact with sustainability of the farming operations. Keri is currently a natural resource specialist in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Dr. Morey Burnham

Morey was a Ph.D. student in the lab from 2010 to 2014, and his dissertation was about climate change perception and adaptation among smallholder farmers in China. Morey is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminology at Idaho State University.

Jamie Laatsch

Jamie was a M.S. student in the lab from 2012 to 2014, and her thesis was about forest management and policy strategies adopted by the USDA Forest Service in response to climate change in the Intermountain West. Jamie is currently the Conservation and Outreach Coordinator for the Henry’s Fork Foundation in Idaho.

Seth Cook

Seth was a M.S. student in the lab from 2010 to 2012, and his thesis was about the human dimensions of carbon sequestration on private rangelands in Utah. Seth is currently the Director of Land Conservation for the Pee Dee Land Trust in South Carolina.

Dr. Dingming An

Dr. Dingming An was a visiting scholar in the lab from December 2014 to December 2015. His research focused on issues related to environmental migration in the Sanjiangyuan region of China. He is currently an associate professor in the School of Finance and Economics at Qinghai University in China.

Daniela Alvarado Rincon

Daniela was an exchange undergraduate student from the National University of Colombia. She visited the lab from June to December 2015. Her research focused on the framing and policy discourse related to the use and management of “wasteland”  (Baldíos) in Colombia.

Colleen Hartel

Colleen was a full-time research assistant in the lab from March to December 2014. She was part of the research team at Purdue working with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife on updating and revising Indiana’s State Wildlife Action Plan. She is currently pursuing a MS degree at Ohio State University.