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  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development
Chuan Liao, assistant professor, Department of Global Development
Chuan Liao is also a member of CALS' first-ever faculty cohort hired to explicitly address systemic challenges facing marginalized communities through transdisciplinary collaboration.

Academic focus: Sustainable development 

Research summary: My overall research goal is to understand how to promote sustainable development through a data-driven and mixed-methods approach. Much of my research focuses on investigating the causal mechanisms within human-environment systems in order to test and refine theories in both natural and social sciences. I have worked on topics that include land tenure and land use change, food security, community-based natural resources management, dryland sustainability, and sustainable energy transition. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

When I am not working, I enjoy gardening. I previously was at Arizona State University and was inspired by the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. I collected a variety of desert plants and combined them with boulders and rocks for desert landscaping. Of course, in Ithaca, I need to acquire new gardening skills and learn about different plants to continue with my gardening practices. I am sure the Cornell Botanic Gardens will be an important source of learning and inspiration for me.  

What are your current outreach/extension projects? 

At ASU, my outreach projects mostly focused on engaging minority communities to develop backyard vegetable gardens to enhance their food security, in collaboration with civic gardening practitioners and the city of Phoenix. I look forward to exploring new outreach opportunities in Ithaca and the surrounding areas through the Farmworker Program and the NY Rice Extension Program.  

What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS? 

The unique department, Global Development, the first of its kind in the U.S., brought me to CALS.  

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field? 

Sustainable development is not just an issue out there (e.g., in Africa), but also right here (in the United States).  

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field? 

Natural hazards and social injustice appear to be growing, affecting more people’s well-being than ever, especially the poorest populations in the world’s most remote places where livelihoods depend largely on natural resources such as forests and rangelands. Within these contexts, I feel passionate to make prescriptive predictions about the impact of social-ecological changes and better inform sustainable and inclusive development. 

What’s the most surprising/interesting thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far? 

I did my M.S./Ph.D. in natural resources at Cornell between 2010 and 2015. Despite that experience, I still find myself so poorly prepared for the rain and wet weather after spending the past four years in Phoenix. 

If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve? 

To make our world more sustainable and just. 

Learn more about Chuan on his faculty profile page.

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