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Welcome, Fiona Summers!

Fiona Summers spent many of her childhood years exploring her backyard in the suburbs of Chicago searching for bugs, climbing trees, and observing the green spaces around her. Transplanted to Michigan for undergrad at Kalamazoo College, her curiosity surrounding plant ecology and environmental justice took root. Fiona found her niche in field work after working in several labs ranging from biochemistry to plant ecology but realized a scientific approach to environmental issues was insufficient. Seeking a deeper understanding, Fiona pursued a master's degree in environmental humanities at the University of Utah. Her final project, 'Indigenizing the Junior Ranger Booklet at Antelope Island State Park in Collaboration with the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation,' highlighted her commitment to the intersections of ecology and conservation, environmental education, and Indigenous Research Methodologies. Beyond her academic pursuits, Fiona’s passion for teaching took them to both traditional and unconventional classrooms where they empowered students to learn from and with their environment. Outside of her work, Fiona can be found outside with their friends, biking the Jordan River Trail, creating art, or collecting bugs!

Dr. Danielle Endres, Director of the Environmental Humanities Program says "I am thrilled that Fiona has joined the EH team as the community engagement and outreach coordinator. Fiona has extensive experience in community engaged research that will not only benefit our students as they learn to build their own relationships with community leaders and organizations but will also support the Program's goal to contribute to addressing complex environmental injustices facing communities in the Salt Lake Valley and Utah."

Below are Fiona’s written responses to questions about her new position.

Welcome to Environmental Humanities! You’re an alumna of the program, and now our outreach and communication coordinator. How did your time as a student prepare you for the work you’re doing now?

Thank you, I am thrilled to be back with the Environmental Humanities (EH) Program in a different capacity while I facilitate student community engagement, deepen relationships, and write about our particular EH world.

While I was a student in EH, I was interested in collaborative land management and conservation, which led to my final project Indigenizing the Junior Ranger Booklet with the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. My community engagement project was a continuation of Hannah Taub’s (’22) work with the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and Antelope Island State Park. As a cis white settler, I had to deeply consider my approach and ethics while doing community engagement with the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

Therefore, my approach to community engagement is founded in Indigenous Research Methodologies. Central to this work is reciprocal relationship building, trust, accountability, and collaborative decision making. I will continue to develop and facilitate relationships upholding these values and encourage our students to deeply consider these ideas in their own community engaged work.

I also understand how difficult it can be to complete a community engaged project within the two years of our master's program while fulfilling the other responsibilities as a student. Therefore, I will be able to advise students to design a project that is realistic within their timeframe and to ensure our community partners receive what they are expecting.

You studied biology and environmental studies as an undergraduate at Kalamazoo. Can you talk about your path from invasive species to environmental justice?

First off, I want to say that I had incredible mentors at Kalamazoo College and I wouldn’t be here without their expertise and support. Thank you, Dr. Binney Girdler, Dr. Ann Fraser, Dr. Sara Tanis, and Sara Stockwood (M.S.).

While my environmental studies concentration revealed the climate crisis to be an entanglement of social, political, and economic systems, my biology courses viewed climate change purely through a scientific lens. At times, my science courses felt disconnected from my humanities studies, despite focusing on similar issues like climate change - that was until I took Ecology and Conservation with Dr. Binney Girdler who encouraged her students to critically examine the limitations of science, question the human/nature divide, and acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous peoples to conservation.

While working with Dr. Girdler, I created a two-year study to analyze the invasive plant species populations in the college arboretum and a local preserve. Both of these places organized programs for the community to pull invasive plant species; therefore, I believed it could be a way to connect with the community through an ecological study. In some ways the community engagement was successful, but in many other ways it fell short and seemed like an afterthought in the overall design of the project.

I used the GIS skills I learned from the project, however, to TA a course for Dr. Girdler called Science and Social Justice. Though I wasn’t a student, I began to develop the skills to apply scientific tools, such as GIS, to further understand environmental justice issues. I utilized this approach early in my master's work to create a preliminary study about the impact of dust from the Great Salt Lake on communities that were previously redlined in Salt Lake City that became a comprehensive research project at NASA-Develop.

Yet, again, I experienced the limitations of a scientific approach and the separation from research and community. I was still searching for an ethical way to apply my scientific knowledge to a project working towards ecological restoration. That was when I started working with the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation on the junior ranger booklet utilizing Indigenous Research Methodologies and decolonial frameworks. I continue my pursuit to understand place through cultural, political, and ecological conditions and I am inspired by the work at the Nature Center at Pia Okwai and the restoration project at Wuda Ogwa.

What does community-engaged research and teaching look like three years from now in Environmental Humanities and the U?

In three years from now, I believe community engagement research in the Environmental Humanities will further reflect the Communiversity Model created by Dr. Beverly Wright. The Communiversity Model is “an acknowledgement that for effective research and policy-making, valuable community life experiences regarding environmental insult must be integrated with the theoretical knowledge of academic educators and researchers” according to the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. Similarly, decolonial community engagement efforts deconstruct the superiority of Western knowledge and support Indigenous ways of knowing and doing.

I believe the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of Utah has started to dismantle the barrier between community and academia through its community engagement efforts such as the Community Practitioner-in-Residence Program, community engaged courses, and dedicated student fellowships. I am interested, however in furthering the sustainability of these partnerships and relationships beyond the two years a student is in the program. Ultimately, I see the future of community engagement efforts in the EH program and the University of Utah as a reciprocal collaboration between community members and academics that transforms our approach to environmental justice and reconsiders dynamics of power.

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Last Updated: 12/12/23