HDNR Welcomes New Faculty and Staff

Faculty and Staff in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources (HDNR) each offer their own unique perspectives, expertise, teaching styles, and charisma to departmental programs. Each student educated and enlivened becomes part of the rich 115-year history of Colorado State University’s (CSU) Warner College of Natural Resources, and their individual impacts create a ripple effect across conservation efforts and responsible nature-based tourism. We are delighted to welcome two new faculty members and a new staff member this fall. Read below to learn more about Jonathan, Rebecca, and Claire.


Jonathan (Jon) Solerno, PhD

Jon is an ecologist who studies people.  His research and teaching interests involve how and why humans interact with their surrounding environments.  He uses primarily theory from ecology and anthropology, but also recent frameworks from coupled human-natural systems science, to try and understand environmental problems and work toward solutions, with a particular focus on individual resource user decision-making.  His work is mostly based in sub-Saharan Africa, along with a newer project in dry forest landscapes in the American West.

In these different systems, Jon’s research tries to explain the variation in human behaviors as both a cause of and a response to environmental change.  This includes trying to explain the emergence and persistence of cooperative behaviors for the conservation and management of natural resources.  His projects fall into three related themes: rural people, public lands, and protected areas; human mobility and land change; and adaptive behaviors and changing climate.

Jon grew up in rural Oregon and loves the West.  After many years of school in California and work in Tanzania, he landed in a postdoc at University of Colorado Boulder where he worked on collaborative projects in Tanzania, Uganda, the Kavango-Zambezi, and Oregon.  He’s excited to continue work as an Assistant Professor with HDNR as a permanent home.


Rebecca Niemiec Headshot

Rebecca (Becky) Niemiec, PhD

Assistant Professor Rebecca (Becky) Niemiec (pronounced “Knee-Mick”) has a PhD from the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Department of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University. Her research focuses on understanding and promoting community engagement in conservation efforts, particularly on private lands. Her recent work has examined how to motivate landowner collective action to control invasive species across property boundaries in Hawaii and New Zealand. Becky applies mixed methods, including surveys, interviews, spatial analysis, and field experiments, to examine the factors driving community conservation action and the impact of community actions on conservation outcomes.

Becky is passionate about working collaboratively with conservation practitioners in both her research and teaching; she has taught community-engaged learning courses on topics ranging from open space management to conservation psychology. With the HDNR she will be teaching multiple courses in conservation social science, with an innovative implementation of NR400: Public Communication in Natural Resources.

Outside of work, Becky’s hobbies include climbing, trail running, and mountaineering with her long-time partner, Andrew, and her puppy Bella, as well as any other adventure she can think of in the mountains.  She has been an active volunteer with the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors program since 2008.


Claire Nitsche

HDNR’s new Event Coordinator grew up on Bainbridge Island, WA, a small island a 30-minute boat ride west of Seattle. Spending her childhood on the Puget Sound, riding horses through the many forest parks on the island and in the Cascade and Olympic mountains, her enthusiasm for the outdoors began at a young age.

Claire attended Western Washington University where she quickly discovered a love of Anthropology. It wasn’t until she took a senior seminar on the Anthropology of Tourism that her passion for studying the complexities of the industry truly took off. After completing research on media impacts on participant experience in the equine tourism sector, Claire’s advisor introduced her Crooked Trails—a U.S. based NGO that focused on decreasing the negative environmental and cultural impacts of tourism in rural communities around the globe while also educating travelers on how to foster reflexivity while abroad and minimize their environmental impact.

After a brief stint working in the tourism industry for Holland America and Seabourn Cruise Line, Claire made the decision to take a leap and leave the corporate world to pursue a passion inspired by the work of Crooked Trails: ecotourism in the Himalayas of Nepal. She began work with the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project—a grassroots, entirely Nepali-run NGO focused on providing education on sustainable tourism practices to trekking guides, tourism professionals and tourists.

Claire joins HDNR directly from her work designing and teaching ESL and eco-leadership courses for Nepali trekking guides and porters for KEEP, and is excited to take part in helping further conservation research and application with the global scientific community.

Outside of work, Claire’s personal interests include rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, guest lecturing on ecotourism for her alma mater, and creative writing. She is thrilled to be a part of HDNR and the CSU community!