Panda researcher receives NASA fellowship

Vanessa Hull

June 8, 2011

Vanessa Hull wants to know what makes a forest a home for pandas, and to help drive good conservation policy – a quest that will be supported by a prestigious NASA fellowship.

Hull, a doctoral candidate in the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University, has been awarded the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship. The fellowship offers $30,000 per year in research support for up to three years to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines needed to achieve NASA’s scientific goals. 

There were 57 such fellowships awarded this year nationally, chosen from a pool of 331 applicants.

Hull will be working to understand one of ecology’s fundamental questions: How animals choose a home that can best meet their needs to survive – and how those needs intersect with its human neighbors. She will be using detailed information on how the endangered giant pandas move through their territories in southwestern China, combined with information gleaned from remotely sensed imagery, habitat characteristics, and interviews with people who share pandas’ neighborhoods.

NASA reviewers noted her work has “broad application to the field of animal behavior, remote sensing and landscape ecology, and biodiversity conservation.”

“The NASA Fellowship is another well-deserved recognition of Vanessa’s exceptional talent and innovative work,” says Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Hull’s advisor and an internationally known human-environment scientist and sustainability scholar who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and is the center’s director.

She is the third of the center’s current doctoral candidates to become a NASA fellow. Neil Carter studies the complex interactions between tigers and human populations in and around the Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Mao-Ning Tuanmu is working to model understory vegetation under different climate change scenarios in China.

The work of all three scholars share an underpinning focus on the study of coupled human and natural systems – the complex interactions between people and the environment.

Hull received her master’s degree from MSU and her bachelor’s degree in animal behavior from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. While at the center, she has served as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, MSU University Distinguished Fellow, and Taylor International Engagement Fellow.


Sue Nichols
Assistant director