Holly Kiang: Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change

HollyK_GovsHolly Kiang
Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change
Home College: Baruch/Macaulay Honors College
Faculty Mentor: Professor Thomas McGovern, Anthropology, Hunter
Goldsmith Scholar; Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women (JFEW) Scholar; National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduate (NSF-REU) Scholar; CV Starr Study Abroad Fellowship; Dewitt Travel Grant

What are your academic goals as a CUNY BA student?

My goals are to understand evolutionary morphology of animals, humans’ relationship with nature, how past cultures lived, and the influences on our current livelihoods. In my experiences in lectures and studying abroad, I am meeting these goals, and I still continue to strive for more nuanced understandings.

How have you designed your Area of Concentration?

I created my major to incorporate Anthropology, Archaeology, and Environmental Science with Political Science, Economics, and Law because the latter three disciplines shape culture and human societies. From the deserts of Lake Turkana in Kenya studying human evolution and the lush and humid Brazilian Amazon studying ecology and resource management, to the concrete jungle of New York City, I have worked to understand communities’ relationships with nature in the present, peoples of the past, and the relationship of current dwellers to the land and cultures past. This work informs the research I have chosen to do currently and hope to continue pursuing. [Editor’s Note: Kiang is drawing her courses from Baruch, Brooklyn and Hunter Colleges, and has included several study abroad programs.]

How did you find your CUNY BA faculty mentor?

On my first foray into archaeology, in Barbuda, I met Professor McGovern from Hunter College who would eventually become my mentor. The welcoming and multidisciplinary collaborative effort in the field among professors, graduate and undergraduate students ensured that I shifted my focus to include archaeology. His passion and ability to connect environmental archaeology with ecology opened my eyes to the range of opportunities available in anthropology. He helped me recognize the multitude of research and careers possible with my course of study and has always been a brilliant soundboard for my ideas and how they could contribute to my academic and professional pursuits.

Tell us more about your studies abroad.

Having explored the interface of ecology and conservation science and how science informs collaboration locally, I looked to expand my knowledge of cultures and interaction abroad. My fieldwork experiences were with a conservation biology nonprofit in Honduras performing biodiversity studies in the jungle and ocean, two archaeology excavations in Barbuda and Iceland, a semester exploring the Brazilian Amazon, and a semester studying human evolution in Kenya. Archaeological excavation, surveying, and diving highlighted historical land use and cultural conceptions of resource management. These experiences were also formative in how to build a relationship with the community and encourage cultural exchange.

What are you working on now?

My senior project is preparing me for my future course of study. I am focusing on the evolution of bipedalism, specifically foot and ankle morphology and gait at a biomechanics and human energetics laboratory. This research will contribute to work providing insight into the development of human gait and energetics in modern humans living in various economies—market-based and hunter-gatherers—which may reveal evolutionary differences. The information gained from understanding a less sedentary lifestyle benefits health research for people today.

Before I knew the potential evolutionary tale biomechanics could provide, I focused on cultural aspects of the human experience. In the first two years of university, my coursework focused on the sociopolitical and economic factors that affect the way people interact with their environment, as well as biology and ecology. I gained insight into the way space, place, politics, and culture affects the thoughts of city denizens from their personal perspective to overarching policy.

What are your post-baccalaureate plans?

After receiving my degree, I would like to go to grad school to attain my Ph.D. in Musculoskeletal Biology, Archaeology, or Integrative Biology. Any of these degrees would allow me to conduct independent research focusing on human evolutionary morphology, integrating aspects of environmental science and ecology. My program of study has prepared me for focused future research. I hope to continue conducting research in the field as part of my Ph.D. and for the rest of my career. Whether I am based at a university, museum, or research institute, I will continue research in my field, teach students, and promote public awareness and understanding of human evolution research.

How else have you pursued your interests?

Along with my academic work, I enjoy extracurricular activities that help me apply human evolutionary studies to human ergonomics. Having danced (mainly ballroom and ballet) and played sport (mainly soccer and track), I’ve always been intrigued by the human body and its function. I like to observe what people do and how they move as a result. One of my hobbies is shoemaking, and I take a personal interest in barefoot running and figuring out how best to make a shoe that is biomechanically superior. My creative side helps me think about academic goals and vice versa.