CSU Peace Corps Representative awarded U.S. Fulbright Student Scholarship
Tomas Pickering has been granted the Fulbright Grant to fund field research in Kenya, Africa. His research in Kenya focuses on community-based conservation in pastoralist communities and how these practices affect livestock production and rangeland ecology. Rangeland ecology studies the relationships that rangeland plants and animals have with their surrounding environment. Pickering will conduct surveys and gather information from locals on the pros and cons of the conservation efforts. His goal is to determine if the community conservation efforts are beneficial to local farmers and if it is impacting crop and livestock production.
Pickering first became interested in ecology at a young age. Growing up in Georgia, he liked to chase insects around his house. His love of the tropics began during his undergraduate days at the University of Georgia, where he majored in biology and completed field studies in Malaysia, Panama and Brazil. He completed his undergraduate honors thesis on the efficiency of capuchin monkeys using stone tools to crack open palm nuts in Brazil. Upon graduation, Tomas worked as a naturalist guide in Costa Rica for six months and then served as a teacher assistant at an elementary school in Texas, before beginning Peace Corps in Malawi. Upon his return to the United States, he spent a little over a year working on small farms in Massachusetts and Washington.
Pickering’s work in Malawi sparked his interest in agriculture and livestock in eastern Africa. Pickering chose Kenya as his research area because of its diverse languages and cultures and its abundant wildlife population. Fellow researchers and CSU faculty are also connected to research in Kenya, such as Pickering’s advisor who has studied and worked there for over 20 years.
The U.S. Fulbright Scholar program places great emphasis on exchange in various areas, including the sciences, business, academe, public service, government and the arts and focuses on increasing mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and people of other countries. Scholars apply to receive grants in order to conduct their research in foreign countries, focusing on issues that have a global impact or affect a certain area.
In addition to receiving a Fulbright Grant, Pickering also received The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. With the assistance of these grants, Pickering will be able to hire people and access resources he may not have been able to before, such as a larger research team and local translators. The funding will allow him to focus on his research and connecting to the local population and area.
“It’s a cool opportunity that makes it more than research. The flexibility allows for deeper cultural connection and understanding,” Pickering says.
Pickering joined the Peace Corps in 2010 and volunteered in Malawi, Africa, where his work focused on public health and local agriculture. In addition to providing locals with mosquito nets and HIV prevention, he also integrated an agriculture-based incentive system. Fruit trees, whose seeds were expensive or unavailable, were used as payment for locals attending HIV prevention training.
Currently, Pickering works as a Peace Corps representative at CSU, where he helps students learn about Peace Corps opportunities and assists them with their applications. He is also pursuing a Ph.D. in CSU’s Graduate Degree Program in Ecology under the direction of Robin Reid and Kathleen Galvin. This summer, he will begin the official transition from PhD student to PhD candidate.
“I feel extremely excited and lucky and I’ve received tons of support,” Pickering says.
Pickering will spend nine months conducting his research in Kenya, with two follow-up trips that will be focused on rounding out his conclusions. Pickering leaves for Kenya in January 2017.