Through interdisciplinary research and scholarship, students in the Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies MA program investigate issues in the environmental arts and humanities from a range of critical perspective. In collaboration with faculty in NCSS and throughout RISD, they develop individualized research programs that prepare them to make important interventions in the fields of art, architecture, design, communication, environmental policy and more.
Valeria Ramirez Ensastiga
Sheikh Rubaiya Sultana Munni
Since completing her undergraduate studies in creative writing and environmental science, Megan Brief has taught plant and animal identification and “leave no trace” outdoor ethics, and created digital content for an educational nonprofit to protect our national parks and monuments. She also enjoyed researching endemic species and cultures in Africa and writing conservation articles.
She has collaborated with international innovators through an MIT entrepreneurial bootcamp in sustainability, led a photojournalistic expedition on National Geographic’s Open Explorer platform, and volunteered as a Trail Steward to promote responsible environmental practices. She’s currently a scholar with Creature Conserve, a nonprofit that connects art and science to foster support for animal conservation. In her scholarly work, she focuses on Anthropocene and critical animal studies to write educational books about animal trafficking and wildlife crimes. You can find Megan at the Nature Lab!
Nathalia Castrillon, also known as Nathalia JMag, is a Colombian-American contemporary fashion designer and artist who believes in sustainable and ethical approaches to creative and professional practice. She graduated from Framingham State University in 2016 and has worked as a professional fashion designer ever since, participating in many fashion shows including Helsinki Fashion Week.
Castrillon is a luminary at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and participated in the 15th season of Project Runway. She is interested in sustainable and ethical fashion and uses a zero-waste design approach to create the least waste possible in the garment production process.
Michelle Dixon was drawn to the NCSS MA program by her own ever-evolving engagement with fashion. Professionally, she’s interested in counteracting the vast harmful effects the fashion industry has on ecosystems by investigating how to grow natural fibers by extracting water from plants. Rather than deplete other sources, she hopes to use the water that is currently transpired from plants via innovative retrieval methods that may prove to simultaneously assist our agriculture.
In her personal life, Dixon is a lover of books, hot cocoa and Jesus, and enjoys making nachos and hosting movie nights.
Chelsey Frost is a Rhode Islander with roots in South Africa and has spent the past few years living, working and traveling through places like Cuba, New Zealand, Alaska, Switzerland and The Bahamas. As an artist, she draws inspiration from nature, especially water.
An early interest in nutrition led Frost down a path of research on what makes for nutritious food and, by extension, what makes for healthy soil and farming practices. She’s interested in issues of global food security, mass food production, food packaging, plastic production and waste and wants to understand how people heed the call to change and how change is communicated. She hopes to learn how to best use her skills as an artist and communication professional to help drive change.
Rebecca Fruehwald is from Philadelphia and has always had an interest in the environment. With a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Delaware, her areas of interest include law, wildlife conservation, environmental justice, poverty and addiction, and he has further pursued these interests through work at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Vermont Law School.
Through her research in the NCSS program, Fruehwald hopes to expand her knowledge of how societal issues affect the environment and vice versa. In the future she plans to conduct research into social and environmental problems facing our world.
Alexandra Ionescu was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. At 10 years old she discovered basketball and went on to play on the Romanian National Team where she was recruited by the University of Minnesota on a full athletic scholarship. Alexandra is currently finishing a MS in Biomimicry at Arizona State University. Her first encounter with Biomimicry was when she heard Janine Benyus’ words: “imagine how Nature designs spring: imagine that orchestration, imagine the timing, imagine the coordination, all without top-down laws, or policies, or climate change protocols”, allowing her to realize the contrast between human systems and the natural world.
In her future research Ionescu will look into self-organization in nature and complex adaptive systems to answer the question of how we can create more beneficial relationships and interactions between the agents in a system by subtraction through reconfiguration and distillation, rather than growth. As a student of Japanese calligraphy, she is exploring the same universal principle in regards to how the propensity of an ideogram (or system) stems from its configuration.
Sarah Manion hails from the sandy shores of Cape Cod. After graduating from Swarthmore College with a BA in African Studies and Environmental Science, she spent about a decade working in sub-Saharan Africa in for-profit and nonprofit contexts. Her diverse professional experience includes Peace Corps service in Cameroon, a technical advisory position for the Rwandan Minister of Infrastructure, and work with Kate Spade & Company.
Manion wishes to explore what “sustainable fashion” actually means from a consumer perspective and is also curious about connections between slow food, mindfulness and maker communities.
Robin Marks completed his undergraduate studies at Hampshire College, focusing primarily on the natural sciences and performing within an environment of progressive interdisciplinary education. He maintains an interest in ethical practices of research and academic study that consider a human and place-based scale of respect, knowledge and action.
Marks is a naturalist writer whose current work and writing has a botanical focus. His research interests include the studies of plant-human engagement with emphasis on the dynamics of place and conditions of scale where they exist.
Valeria Ramirez Ensastiga
After completing her degree in Industrial Design at UNAM, Mexico, Valeria Ramirez Ensastiga focused her work in pottery projects, mainly because she finds the touch of clay charming. Moreover, due to her passion for the soil and sustainability, she specialized in urban agriculture and environmental education for young children.
Ramirez Ensastiga has worked as a curricular and product designer on several projects with an aim to create local communities and to promote a healthy lifestyle, collaborating within schools, cultural centers and urban gardens. She sees the urban garden as a living lab where art, science and culture merge to reconnect the urban child with nature, using "learning through play" as a guideline. She loves to awaken curiosity and bring children closer to the wild nature.
Alyce Santoro is an intermedia conceptual/sound artist with a background in scientific illustration and marine biology. Her practice involves rigorous investigation into (and attunement with) the unquantifiable, the obvious and the marvelous... that which falls outside conventional Western methods of research and classification.
Santoro's MA thesis research looks at the shared desire of the 18th/19th century Romantic Naturalists and the 20th century Surrealists to “re-enchant the world,” and suggests that this spirit is urgently needed now in light of the Anthropocene epoch.
Sheikh Rubaiya Sultana Munni
Sheikh Rubaiya Sultana Munni completed her Bachelor of Architecture from the Architecture Discipline, Khulna University, Bangladesh, and her Master of Science in Urban Planning from the University of Hong Kong. She’s a faculty member at the Department of Architecture in BRAC University, Bangladesh. Her research interests include climate change, environmental studies, social business and sustainable development, and energy efficiency.
Rubaiya's focus on humanitarian-induced environmental activities lead her to engage in various community affairs, including building schools for Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Inspired by the rich Bengali heritage and culture of Dhakai Jamdani, she integrates her sense of design and sensible outlook to (re-)create this traditional weaving technique.
Ariel Wills is an artist and writer. She earned a BA in Humanities from the University of Oregon while focusing on art, dance and Spanish. She immersed herself in language learning while studying abroad in Querétaro, Mexico, and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and taught ESOL in Madrid and interned at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.
Formerly, Wills was a Spanish language and cultural exchange associate at Andeo International Homestays. Her illustration and essays recognize and honor diverse expressions of knowledge and experience by examining our global ecosystem, cultural heritage, migration and diaspora.
Dongrui Tang was born in Beijing and earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwest University in Chongqing, China, majoring in urban planning with a minor in journalism. While there she developed an interest in both landscape architecture and documentary film and went on to study landscape architecture at RISD.
In her studies, Tang further developed her enthusiasm for how designers can nurture sustainable relationships between land land and people. She believes the work of landscape architecture is a longterm engagement that connects all people who inhabit a given land.