People

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Jennifer Blesh

Principal Investigator

 Dr. Blesh is an Associate Professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and part of the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. Through her work she explores the potential for agroecological management to improve the sustainability of food production. She uses interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research approaches to measure and assess environmental, agronomic, and social outcomes of a diverse range of agri-food systems, drawing on theories and methods from disciplines such as agroecology, biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, soil science, rural sociology, and political ecology. Practicing interdisciplinarity, thinking systemically, and integrating multiple perspectives are all fundamental components of her scholarship.

Kent Connell

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

 Kent is an ecosystem ecologist broadly interested in soil carbon and nutrient cycling, plant-soil interactions, and global change. He is currently working two projects in the lab: 1) the USDA AFRI grant to investigate the influence of management legacies on nitrogen and phosphorus retention in farms across varying climate and soil conditions, and 2) the CNAP grant to investigate how cover crop mixtures influence soil carbon storage in Michigan grain farms. Previously, for his PhD research at Kansas State University and the Konza Prairie LTER site, Kent used a combination of field studies and long-term data analysis to investigate rhizosphere interactions and soil biogeochemical cycling in grasslands.

Alison Nord

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Ali is an agroecologist interested in sustainable agricultural management, with a particular focus on soil health and overall crop production within alternative agricultural systems. She is currently working on the perennial grain-legume intercrops project investigating the potential of intercropping alfalfa and clover legumes with intermediate wheatgrass (IWG) to improve the nutrient cycling, soil health, and production quality in perennial agricultural systems. She previously completed her PhD at Michigan State University, where she focused on maize-legume cropping systems in Tanzania, East Africa. Her research there involved an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating legume production, integrating field trials, on-farm assessments and current extension systems to improve understanding of sustainable intensification opportunities at different scales.

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Alison Bressler

PhD Candidate

Alison’s dissertation research focuses on the impact of cover crop mixture litter chemistry on soil N retention and losses on working grain farms in Michigan. She also uses a coupled human and natural systems framework to study farmer adaptation strategies to overcoming constraints to cover crop adoption in the Midwest. Before joining the Blesh Lab in 2016, Alison completed her Master’s at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, NY), where she studied ecosystem services of commercial short-rotation shrub willow biomass. Alison also studied nutrient cycling in suburban rain gardens while working on her B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science and Political Science from Furman University (Greenville, SC).

Etienne Herrick

PhD Candidate

Etienne plans to use a functional ecology framework to better understand linkages between agroecosystem structure and function across variable environmental and management conditions, particularly within the context of a rapidly changing climate. She received her B.S. from the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan in 2018. For her Senior Honors Thesis in the Blesh Lab, Etienne used plant functional traits as mechanistic indicators of cover crop species interactions, and also examined predictive relationships between cover crop traits and ecosystem services. During her gap year, she worked at the USGS on an invasive species management program, and then joined the Zak Lab at UM SEAS to learn and perform molecular ecology techniques for an ectomycorrhizal fungi research project.

Erika Dodge

MS Candidate

Erika’s thesis research focuses on nitrogen management in agricultural systems. Her work within the perennial grain-legume intercropping project focuses on identifying the potential benefits of intercropping alfalfa and white clover with intermediate wheatgrass (IWG). Before beginning her master’s degree with the School for Environment and Sustainability, Erika received her Bachelor’s from Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, NY), where she focused on international environmental policy. Broadly, Erika is interested in establishing a deeper understanding of how intensive agricultural development contributes to environmental degradation.

Jourdan Clements

MS/MPH Candidate

Jourdan’s research interests focus on the intersections between sustainability and public health, with a goal of better informing preventative healthcare through sustainable policy. Her thesis research project involves investigating the relationship between nutritional functional diversity, environmental sustainability, and diet quality on smallholder farms in Bolivian communities. Prior to joining the Blesh Lab, she received her B.S. from the program of Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity at the University of Michigan in 2020. Her undergraduate research focused on studying aberrations in the process of spermatogenesis to inform clinical decisions in assisted reproductive technologies.

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Beth VanDusen

Lab Manager

Beth received a M.S. in Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a B.S. in Biology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. After spending a number of years fending off ghost crabs, sand fleas, sharks, and humidity while conducting research in coastal North Carolina, she returned to her home state of Michigan to join the Blesh Lab team. Though her research background is rooted in coastal ecology, Beth maintains diverse interests and has long been fascinated by all-things-food, including local food production and the development of sustainable food systems.

Blesh Lab Alumni

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Vivian Valencia

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 2015-2017

As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, Vivian collaborated on an interdisciplinary project investigating relationships between policy, agricultural practices, and social-ecological resilience of food systems for the family farming sector in Brazil. She is currently a P.R.I.M.E. Research Fellow, funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Marie Curie Program of the European Commission. In 2018, Vivian will join Wageningen University for an Ecological Design of Foodscapes postdoc position, which includes the opportunity to transition to a tenure track faculty position within Wageningen.

Anne Elise Stratton

PhD, 2021

Current position: Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Marta Plumhoff
M.S. 2021 (SEAS Ecosystem Science & Management)
Santiago Bukovsky-Reyes
M.S. 2019 (SEAS Conservation Ecology)
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Katie Grantham
M.S. 2018 (SEAS Conservation Ecology)
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Tianyu Ying
M.S. 2018 (SEAS Conservation Ecology)

Research Assistants

Eliot Jackson
Devorah Gordin
Beth Dorgay
Rebecca Minardi
Yili Luo

Undergraduates

Alec Reznich
Aminata Fofana
(University of Toledo)
Elliot Nichols
Emmett Werthmann
(College of Wooster)
Mitch Dangler
Rose Paretti
Ryan Nelson
(Wesleyan University)

Thea Louis
(Wellesley College)
Sean Danaher
Sydney Fuller