Emily Hayes

In today’s blog post, we are highlighting Emily Hayes, who is a current student in the Ph.D. in Environmental Science program.  Emily also holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in geology from Ball State.  Along with Dr. Joshua Gruver, Emily was recently awarded the Cohen Peace Fellowship.  The fellowship is funded by the Benjamin V. Cohen Memorial Endowment Fund, which honors the legacy of Benjamin V. Cohen, a Muncie native (born 1894- died 1983) who went on to a distinguished career in government and was one of the architects of the United Nations.  We hope more graduate students will apply for the award in the coming years!  Read below for interviews with both Emily and Dr. Gruver about the research project funded by the Fellowship.

Q & A with Emily

What made you select your research topic? 

I became interested in exploring environmental peacebuilding as a tool for community-based water management while completing my MSc. research on drinking water quality in the Sagarmatha National Park (SNP), Nepal. Through my background research on water policy, I kept finding the concept/field of environmental peacebuilding starting to gain traction as a means of addressing conflict associated with resource management through a community-based approach. I became aware of the Cohen Peace Fellowship then; however, I was at the end of my degree path and ready to defend. I completed my MSc in Geology in 2016 and put this research topic away for a few years while I had my first child and continued teaching at the community college. At my daughter’s first birthday party, I was asked by a dear friend if I intended to return to complete my research through this new lens. I think I applied for the Environmental Science PhD program within the next week! Although returning to grad school with a then almost two-year old during the heat of the pandemic brought its own suite of obstacles, I have never been happier about the decision I made to return. I am honored to work with the best team of advisors/mentors like Dr. Gruver and Dr. Nicholson, a well-suited doctoral committee, and to pursue this research as a Cohen Peace Fellow.   I also have a passion to complete this research to honor the local Sherpa people who have dedicated over one thousand years to the sustainable management of the Khumbu region.

SNP research site


Please tell us about your research and how your project is coming along.  What do you hope to find out or accomplish once the project is complete?

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unforeseen obstacles along the way. Taking proper precautions at school and work meant constant disruptions in work-life balance, and international travel restrictions resulted in our first planned trip for fieldwork being postponed until May 2022. This obstacle, however, presented me with a unique opportunity to dive deeper into current literature on indigenous knowledge and environmental policy and complete several continuing education courses on Climate-Sensitive Programming for Sustaining Peace, Integrated Water Resource Management, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. I have also been using this time to identify water resource stakeholders in the region to initiate virtual interviews before our trip to the region in May 2022.

We plan to interview 10-15 key informants virtually who can inform us on the current management framework from within the SNP systems. Once we have gained this initial knowledge, we will interview more stakeholders in person while visiting the SNP in May. We will be deploying household and tourist perception surveys using digital methods and local mail service, with the intent to ground-truth what we learned from key-informant interviews and dive deeper into local perceptions and attitudes about drinking water management. Based on the data revealed in our initial interviews and surveys, we will hold community meetings in each of the three Village Development Communities to share our results, implement environmental peacebuilding tools, and consult with the local Sherpa community members.

The goal of this research is to conduct result-driven water management assessments that honor and respect the traditional language, knowledge, and culture of the Sherpa community and support indigenous community conservation measures. The progress of this study will be published and disseminated to the SNP community and in journals such as Society and Natural Resources. Our abstract has been accepted for a poster presentation at the 2nd International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding in Geneva, Switzerland (Feb. 2022) and we plan to submit an abstract to the 2022 International Assoc. of Society and Natural Resources Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica (June 2022) to publish preliminary results from our May fieldwork. I hope our accomplishments through this project will lead to increased participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in community-based resource management in the formal and informal policy sectors.

What brought you to Ball State University? 

I have a long history with Ball State. I first transferred to BSU in January of 2010 as an undergraduate Science Education major. My family is from a nearby rural town, Middletown, and going to Ball State was a better financial and educational decision for me at the time. I began taking courses in Geology and quickly knew that I was meant to be in this field. I began my research in Nepal at the end of my undergraduate degree through a study abroad course led by Dr. Kirsten Nicholson. The work that I completed during this study abroad eventually transitioned into a master’s thesis on drinking water quality along the Mt. Everest base camp trekking route.

After finishing my master’s thesis, I applied for the Science Education Doctoral Program through the Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM) department, with the intent of continuing my research in Nepal but from a human dimensions approach. Unfortunately, the year that I applied for this program (2016) was also the year the university decided to dissolve the program. At that time, I wasn’t interested in approaching the same research from within the same department I had always worked with, so I decided to just continue my teaching path through my adjunct employment at Ivy Tech in Muncie. I have since been teaching at Ivy Tech for 6 years and continue to find fulfillment in this role. I decided to return to Ball State to begin my PhD in Environmental Sciences when the NREM and the Geology departments merged into the Department of Environment, Geology, and Natural Resources. This gave me the opportunity to approach environmental/resource management with a human dimensions lens with Dr. Gruver as my guide into this new field. I have always believed that opportunities will find you when they are meant to and that seems true for my academic journey here at Ball State University.

Anything else you would like us to know? 

Throughout my time at Ball State, I have worked for various departments/offices (Geology, NREM, Applied Anthropology Labs, and Sponsored Projects Administration). Through these roles, I have learned to instruct students in the field, coordinate and manage programs for the Muncie Food Hub Partnership, digitally archive past archaeology investigations, and write grants for research and K-12 education.  I have experienced being a student, graduate student, alumni, and professional staff member at Ball State University over the course of a decade and have been led by three different university presidents. I am passionate about supporting student and community engagement in scientific research- with a particular focus on women in STEM- and believe that the various roles I hold as a PhD student, educator, mother, and volunteer help me to accomplish this goal!


Faculty fellow, Dr. Joshua Gruver, said the following about Emily’s work.

What a great honor to win the Cohen award this year as part of Emily’s team. Emily is extremely passionate about the work she is doing in Nepal. She has a strong geological background, but the work we are proposing to do in Nepal is focused more on people, communities, and collaborative resource management. Emily is in the midst of learning a new approach to environmental work, and winning the Cohen award was a real confidence booster – a sign that she is on the right path. I think what really drives her is her commitment to the people and the communities in the Khumbu region who are struggling right now in a variety of ways – particularly in being able to access clean drinking water now and into the future. The Cohen Award gives Emily the resources she needs to begin tackling this problem in new and exciting ways.

Emily’s doctoral research focuses on local indigenous water management practices and the dynamic relationship between water management and peace. Utilizing a mixed methods research approach, she intends to evaluate water management practices and identify possible sources of water-related conflict in the Sagarmatha National Park (SNP). This study expands on previous water quality research in the SNP by proposing to work directly with Sherpa communities and engaging them in decision making processes related to resource use and sustainability. She will be using an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) framework that will not only contribute to basic research in water management and governance, but will also greatly contribute to our understanding of how to successfully engage the Sherpa community in the process. This is especially important now as the people there face extreme shifting climate regimes and a lack of a consistent drinking water supply.

Emily is the perfect person for this kind of work. Not only has she been to Nepal several times during her Masters work (so she knows her way around), but she has the people skills and sensitivities to do great work in a human dimension’s context. This kind of work requires a researcher who can create bridges and develop collaborative capacity among a variety of stakeholders – from the Sherpa trekking guide to the resource officer who makes water management decisions at the regional level. Developing this kind of collaborative capacity requires strong people skills and a certain degree of empathy. That is, someone who has the capacity to actually listen to others different from themselves and to build trust with them and within the community as a whole. Once this trust has been established, the real work of collaborative resource management can begin. Being on the ground and intimately involved in engaging the Sherpa community will serve Emily well as she aspires to continue this type of work in the academy.