Professor Beth Kaplin Receives MacArthur Grant

Rwanda and neighboring countries are in dire need of locally trained conservation biologists to help protect one of Africa’s most important ecosystems. And Antioch New England’s Beth Kaplin has been tapped to help do something about it.

Beth Kaplin, a professor of conservation biology in the Department of Environmental Studies, authored a winning proposal to the MacArthur Foundation to fund a three-year project to restructure the curriculum at the National University of Rwanda’s Biology Department.

The project aims to provide staff and faculty at the university with more training in how to research and teach issues vital to conservation biology and to establish a Master’s of Science degree in the field of study.

Rwanda is one of five countries comprising the so-called Albertine Rift, a region which is very high in species richness and has a large number of endemic species, or species that are only found in that region of the world. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been compiling lists of these mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and plants with the aim of promoting their conservation.

As part of the grant, Beth will take an 18-month leave from her position at ANE and will relocate to Rwanda to provide technical assistance in the restructuring. Among other endeavors, she’ll help improve instruction on techniques for gathering data on wildlife in the field.

The project is something of a homecoming for Beth, who has studied tropical forest ecology in Rwanda since 1990 and has worked closely with the national university.

“This work is a culmination of many things I have been thinking about in recent years, including conservation education and biodiversity conservation in the Albertine Rift. Needless to say I am both thrilled and overwhelmed at the prospect!”

Chairperson of ANE’s Department of Environmental Studies, Mitch Thomashow, said “Beth’s excellent research, teaching, scholarship, and networking in tropical conservation biology have established her as an international expert. Her MacArthur grant, designed to build conservation biology programs in Rwanda, reflects this fine effort. We expect it to spawn many opportunities for student and faculty exchanges in the months and years to come.”

The MacArthur Foundation chose to fund the project to help stem the current shortage of locally trained conservation biologists in Rwanda. Although the government of Rwanda has made wildlife conservation a top priority, it’s had difficulty recruiting qualified local conservation biologists to fill positions ranging from national park wardens to senior wildlife managers. One of the main reasons for the shortage has been the nation’s lack of opportunity to specialize in conservation biology at the undergraduate level or to pursue graduate studies in this field. The National University of Rwanda’s Biology Department, for example, devotes less than five percent of its curriculum to conservation biology.

To help change that, Beth leaves for Rwanda at the end of February and will remain based there until Fall 2007, when she resumes her position at ANE. During the leave, however, Beth will continue working with the master’s students she advises and the Ph.D. candidates on whose dissertation committees she serves. She will also
maintain a role with the Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation and will return to Keene each summer to teach the Ph.D. Dissertation Seminar. The Department of Environmental Studies will be hiring a one-year replacement to cover her ecology and conservation biology courses.

Antioch New England would like to wish Beth the best of luck in her new pursuit.