Richard A Niesenbaum

Professor, Biology
Director, Sustainability Studies Program
Main Campus > New Science Building > 327

image of faculty member


  • Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
  • M.S., University of Connecticut
  • B.A., University of Pennsylvania

Teaching Interests

A wise professor once told me that the odds of any individual making a significant, direct impact on society were quite small. He then argued that my greatest potential for effecting change would be through teaching and guiding students so that they may, one day, change the world in an important way. This has fueled my passion for teaching about our planet, its complex environmental and social problems and how to generate solutions to those problems. This process requires us to remove the blinders of single disciplinary learning through collaborative hands-on, project-based experiences.  The laboratory, College greenhouse, local forest and a community in Costa Rica are among our classrooms. Community members and diverse stakeholders become our teachers. This allows us to explore our fundamental connections to the natural world, how to understand and effect change and to forge a path towards a sustainable future. That wise professor was actually correct! My students are changing the world through their engagement in community and as they have become graduate students, Peace Corps volunteers, activists, professors, physicians, environmental lawyers, eco-entrepreneurs, scientists and teachers.


Research, Scholarship or Creative/Artistic Interests

As an “interdisciplinarian” I have collaborated widely across the College allowing me to publish work with colleagues in the social sciences, humanities and arts and other areas of science. My research has focused on two distinct, but related areas: plant ecology and sustainability. In plant ecology with over $1 million in research funding from The National Science Foundation, my lab has focused on the ecological, genetic and chemical factors that influence insect herbivory. In the area of sustainability, I have worked internationally on measuring the success of sustainable practice in northern Guatemala, and I have been working in the Costa Rican community of Las Juntas de Abangares for more than 15 years on eco-educational tourism development, on public health and environmental studies of the effects of local gold mining and the development of alternative fuels. I have published dozens of scholarly articles in the areas of ecology, environmental and science education, and sustainable development and am the author of two books, Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations (Oxford University Press) and In Exchange for Gold: The Legacy and Sustainability of Artisanal Gold Mining In Las Juntas de Abangares (Common Ground Publishing) with photographer Joseph Elliott.


Professional Website

Go Back to Search >>