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Kaitlyn Spangler

Degree, Program, and date of graduation: Master of Science in Geography, May 2018

Dates of working with the WGD Program: August, 2016 – May, 2018

What work do you do with the WGD program?

"As a Graduate Research Assistant, I primarily work on the gender research component of the Asia Vegetable and Mango Integrated Pest Management (IPM) project, as part of the USAID-funded IPM Innovation Lab (IPM-IL). I have mostly focused on the project in Nepal, where I am helping to assess the gendered implications of IPM, as well as understand the impacts of male out-migration on gender roles and expectations. This involved collecting primary data during the summer of 2017 in the Nepali mid-hills, as well as analyzing data, developing research instruments, collecting literature, preparing materials for workshops, and providing support for trips to project countries. Beyond my work with IPM-IL, I help support the WGD Discussion Series, assist with the content and grading for the Gender, Environment, and Development course taught during spring semesters, and various other tasks related to our work on campus and abroad."

Most exciting experience, interesting discovery, or connections made:

“I feel particularly lucky to have had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork for 2 months in the Mid-western region of Nepal. During that time, I learned a lot about implementing a research project, about gender roles and dynamics within households and communities, and about myself as a young researcher and curious human being. During my literature review prior to embarking on this fieldwork, I became interested in the paradoxical debate regarding the empowering or disempowering effects of women taking on new roles in the context of male out-migration. I read lots of literature discussing the theoretical arguments about women’s empowerment in development and the feminization of agriculture, enthralled by journal articles and research methodologies that I wanted to embody. However, upon arriving in Nepal and witnessing these theoretical queries and development objectives gain faces and personalities as I talked with men and women about their experiences with IPM, I realized one, of several, overarching conclusions: research is messy, and livelihoods often do not fit neatly into measurable indicators or predetermined classifications. Although I knew this before my fieldwork in Nepal, my role as a student researcher allows me the privilege to recognize, respect, and bring justice to these people and their livelihoods through their stories. That is a really cool feeling and, if anything, a powerful personal discovery.” 

After-graduation plans:

“My work with the WGD team, as well as my Master’s course work, introduced me to more technical applications of applied social science research and has shown me how much I love the research process! Therefore, after graduation, I will begin a PhD program at Utah State University in as a Presidential Doctoral Research Fellow and Climate Adaptation Science Scholar within the Environment and Society Department. My research will focus on understanding land use diversity and agricultural production across U.S. landscapes with major crops, like corn, soy, and wheat. My goal is to use the rigorous qualitative research training I’ve gained through my master’s work and apply it to understanding complex decision-making processes of U.S. agricultural stakeholders to eventually work in a position that helps integrate research, policy, and action toward a more equitable and resilient food system."

How has the WGD program influenced your future?

“The WGD program has changed my life. Upon graduation from Penn State University with a BA in Anthropology and BS in Community, Environment, and Development, I felt overwhelmed with the multitude of directions to try to direct my future. Becoming a GRA for WGD opened my academic repertoire to an entirely new, although entirely interconnected to previous studies, realm of research and ways of thinking. I now feel much more able to make connections across nominally different disciplines and jobs, as well as utilize a breadth of skills from research to event planning that are both relevant to and desired by future employers, as well as a source of personal pride. I had never been explicitly interested in gender research and analysis, but my research with WGD and the IPM-IL has helped illustrate how understanding and addressing cultural and social influences is essential to the success of any development intervention. Gender is just one of those intersecting variables that we must integrate into how we aim to ultimately improve peoples’ quality of life. I plan to find a job that challenges me to use the critical lenses and interdisciplinary approach I could foster working with WGD.

Morever, working as a GRA has helped me become much more organized and accountable to team work. I have learned tangible ways of accomplishing a long-term task week-by-week, setting measurable goals, working with the WGD team to reach deadlines and plan events, and learning new software and technology to help achieve our goals more effectively.”