June 2, 2003
Transfer student makes the most of what UCSC
Senior focuses on environmental conflict resolution
By Jennifer McNulty
Maybe it was growing up in rural Maryland and hearing relatives argue
about the fate of the family farm that sparked Liv Nevins passion
for environmental conflict resolution.
|Liv Nevin was one of just 100
students worldwide attending a monthlong mediation course at The
Hague last summer. Photo: Jennifer McNulty
Whatever the origin, Nevin found strong support for her academic interests
as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, where her senior project explored
conflicts over the Carmel River watershed.
Pursuing her interest in conflict resolution took Nevin all the way
to The Hague last summer, where she was one of only 100 students worldwide
who attended a monthlong mediation course that emphasized the nonviolent
path to social change.
The course was a perfect fit for Nevin, 27, an ordained Buddhist lama
who spent several years immersed in Buddhist practice in China, Brazil,
and Connecticut before coming to college.
Nevin, who arrived two years ago as a community college transfer student,
will graduate in June with a degree in environmental studies.
"Liv has great personal depth and great intellectual depth. Its
a powerful combination," said Dennis Kelso, Professor of environmental
studies, coholder of the Pepper-Giberson Chair, and Nevins adviser
on her senior project.
For her part, Nevin speaks highly of the learning environment at UCSC
and has nothing but praise for her professors, including Kelso and associate
professor Daniel Press, who introduced her to ideas about the intersection
of public opinion, government, and environmental goals.
"Denny was very enthusiastic and interested in my project,"
said Nevin, who, like many UCSC students, is on a first-name basis with
her professors. "He helped me be independent and encouraged me
to go off and do my own thing. Professors here really will make time
for you. Its remarkable."
Nevins two-quarter research project dominated her senior year.
She examined the activities of the 12-member Carmel River Watershed
Council, a volunteer advisory group established in 2000 to influence
land-use decisions after the federal government drafted proposals to
protect steelhead and California red-legged frogs. The threat of losing
private-property rights spawned the creation of the council, which Nevin
said includes "developers, environmentalists, and everything in
Watershed-management decisions are often controversial (and were the
point of friction on her familys farm) in part because they represent
geographic boundaries and contain a finite resource, said Nevin, whose
research included poring over the councils archives and conducting
numerous interviews. The process was challenging and eye-opening, she
said, calling it a "small miracle" that she was able to pull
it all together into a 50-page thesis. The experience heightened Nevins
understanding of what it takes to be an environmental activist.
"I saw that its really hard work for people to be involved,"
said Nevin, who received a $5,000 scholarship from the Morris K. Udall
Foundation, which supports undergraduate scholarship on the environment.
"I was amazed by how burned out and discouraged members of the
council are. But it was really good to see people trying to come together
to work things out. I still think a watershed council can work."
Press applauded Nevins choice to undertake the thesis project,
which gave her a "sobering look at the pitfalls and prospects of
"She needs to learn about those if she wants to go into environmental
dispute resolution. She needs to understand what it can and cant
do," said Press, adding that Nevin is an "excellent"
scholar who is "more interdisciplinary than her professors."
"Thats true of our best students, because weve come
up through the disciplines, and they havent," he said, noting,
however, that few students share Nevins dexterity in multiple
Nevin, who received a Deans Award and honors on her thesis, was
raised on an "off the grid" homestead by parents who emphasized
self-sufficiency and multicultural awareness. The family cultivated
an organic garden, used an outhouse rather than a flush toilet, and
pumped springwater by hand into the kitchen. Their "back-to-the-land"
lifestyle was so novel that the family was the subject of numerous newspaper
and magazine articles. Nevins parents also encouraged travel,
and the family spent an entire year bicycling from London to Greece
Nevin turned to college after several years spent studying and teaching
Buddhism, including opening two Buddhist centers in Brazil and one in
Connecticut. "For me, Buddhism was a vehicle for understanding
social responsibility and trying to raise consciousness about environmental
problems," said Nevin. "After wearing (Buddhist) robes for
three years, it was a big decision for me not to do that anymore, but
I was ready to be a student again."
Nevin wanted to learn about environmental issues and improve her writing,
and she chose UCSC in part because the Environmental Studies Department
offers three areas of specialization: policy, agroecology, and conservation
To learn more about dispute resolution, Nevin applied to participate
in the international course in The Hague. Sponsored by the Washington,
D.C.-based Institute for International Mediation and Conflict Resolution,
the course offered participants intensive training in negotiation, mediation,
and "practical means of bringing about nonviolent change."
Nevin was awed by the expertise of instructors who had worked on conflicts
from Rwanda to Ireland and the Middle East.
"We got to hear the perspectives of people working all over the
world--from students, diplomats, lawyers, academics, and peace activists,"
said Nevin. "The diversity of views was particularly valuable,
especially after September 11."
Returning to Santa Cruz, Nevin learned more about environmental dispute
resolution during an internship with CONCUR, Inc., a Berkeley-based
organization founded by UCSC alumni John K. Gamman and Scott T. McCreary.
Bolstered by the backing of faculty mentors, Nevin charted an educational
path that integrated independent research, international study, and
an off-campus internship.
This article is part of Profiles in Excellence, an ongoing series
highlighting the outstanding educational opportunities and achievements
of UCSC students and graduates. Other profiles are posted on the Profiles
in Excellence web page.
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