Earth Systems Science Ph.D. student continues her STEM journey

By Ashley Garcia

Christina Estela Brown is a postdoctoral scholar with the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research and the Department of Tourism, Events & Attractions in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida.

Brown received a Ph.D. in Earth Systems Science from FIU in 2019. She wanted to study environmental and ecological economics, but also wanted a deep understanding of the ecosystems she was studying. The Earth Systems Science program, she says, “gave me an opportunity to really develop a transdisciplinary framework for understanding socio-ecological systems.”

Brown is proud of studying at FIU and loved working alongside a diverse student body and faculty with powerful perspectives from different places and backgrounds.

“As a queer Latina from Miami, diversity is incredibly important to me and so is contributing to my community. Being able to get my Ph.D. at a Hispanic Serving Institution where I could pursue research about South Florida that can help inform water management decisions was a huge draw.”

Her dissertation focused on economic gains to recreational fisheries from restoring freshwater flows to the Everglades and the economic losses from increased crop flooding due to climate change and sea level rise.

While at FIU, Brown was supported through FIU Agroecology’s USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded higher education grants and a National Science Foundation Water Sustainability and Climate grant. The grants provided her with a Research Assistantship that helped her change her course of study from pure economics to ecological economics, an interdisciplinary science and social science.

She was able to participate in a number of professional development opportunities, which included being part of a multidisciplinary research project, the chance to present her work at multiple national and international conferences and selection to the board of directors of a national professional society, the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics (USSEE).

She credits her mother for her interest in science, who studied microbiology in Puerto Rico after leaving Cuba.

“She always encouraged my curiosity,” says Brown. “Growing up seeing her work in science communication at the Food and Drug Administration taught me so much about the way science research impacts policy and education.”

She also credits her advisor, Mahadev Bhat, Co-Director of the FIU Agroecology Program and her agroecology labmates for invaluable support and encouragement.

“The academic world can be very competitive, and it really helps to build a support system of people who are going to lift you up and be your allies when things get hard,” she said.

Brown is currently working on a few different projects centered around the economic effects of natural events and disasters like red tide and tropical cyclones in Florida. As a state with such a huge tourism sector, Florida is particularly vulnerable to economic losses from these events, which could be exacerbated by climate change.

She’s already published and is the lead author on the article ‘Ecological-economic assessment of the effects of freshwater flow in the FloridaEverglades on recreational fisheries’ in Science of the Total Environment and a conference paper entitled ‘A Game-Theoretic Model of Crop Flood Indemnity in South Florida.’

She plans to stay in academia and continue her research on the economics of coastal systems, continuing to blend her passion for teaching and her love of research. She’s dreaming big.

“I’m proud of the work I’m doing specializing in Florida’s unique ecosystems and industries and I’d also be interested in taking what I’ve learned and applying it to research in other geographies.”

Her advice to girls who are starting out in science?

“Don’t listen to anyone who tries to make you feel less-than or undeserving of being in the classroom or in the lab. You belong, so let the unique experiences and frame of reference you’re bringing to the table guide your research along with what you’re learning in your journey as a scientist.” 

This article first appeared in ADVANCE News.