William & Mary

The World Is My Laboratory

mariaPolitical borders always struck me as artificial divisions given the interconnectedness of our global environment. Finding a way to transcend these boundaries has become my passion. And devising collaborative international solutions to global environmental problems has come to preoccupy my mind and heart.

My passion for the environment arose through political science. A comparison of U.S. and European public policies revealed significant differences in preferences for regulation and tolerance for governmental initiative. Why did European countries embrace the notion of a welfare state? Why was the United States adopting an isolationist stance in many international contexts? Surprisingly, many interesting answers came from—water.

Water bodies in Europe are connectors, a life system of communication among peoples and countries whose fates are intertwined. For the United States two oceans provide natural geographic barriers encouraging isolationism. My desire to unearth the root causes behind social preferences and practices became a quest for understanding how countries developed environmental policies nationally and how they interacted with their peers internationally.

As a graduate student, I launched a project on global environmental governance at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy to strengthen environmental policymaking on a global scale. Climate change, ocean pollution, fisheries depletion are all problems that require collective international action. Yet, the system for dealing with these challenges is fragmented, lacking in authority, and poor in resources. Over a dozen United Nations agencies have some environmental responsibilities, yet little progress is evident at the global level. Why has the international system failed to successfully resolve international environmental problems? How can it be reformed to become more effective and deliver more equitable results? These questions informed my Ph.D. studies at Yale and will continue to inform my teaching at William & Mary.

Focusing on the big picture, I will work with the most precious quality students bring to the classroom—the ambition and idealism to change the world. During the fall 2005 semester, my senior seminar on international organizations and environmental governance developed a performance assessment framework for international organizations. How can we evaluate the effectiveness of the United Nations Food Programme, the Convention on Biological Diversity, or the International Monetary Fund? What factors account for the performance of these organizations? This analysis will be expanded in subsequent courses to create a solid methodology and rigorous analytical framework that could be effectively employed in the policy world.

In the classroom I seek to create knowledge by bridging theory and practice and challenging students to answer real world questions and to think creatively to change the policies that govern our global environment.


This article appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of our newsletter, Downstream.