Daniel C. Miller
Principal Investigator

Daniel C. Miller is Associate Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Miller’s research and teaching focus on international environmental politics and policy.  He is especially interested in understanding the socio-economic and ecological impacts of conservation funding in developing countries over the long-term and the political factors that shape those impacts. Dr. Miller has carried out fieldwork in more than ten countries around the world, focusing especially on national parks and other protected areas…continue reading

Graduate Students

Sarah (Brown) Castle
Ph.D. Student

Sarah Castle’s research maps and synthesizes evidence on the agricultural, environmental and socio-economic impacts of agroforestry practices and interventions, with a focus on impacts of relevance to US landowners. She holds an MSc degree in NRES from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Katia Nakamura
Ph.D. Student

Katia Nakamura’s doctoral research analyzes the allocation and impacts of conservation funding in Peru. She earned her MSc in NRES at the University of Illinois and holds an MBA from Pacifico University and a degree in biology from Cayetano Heredia University in Peru.

Dikshya Devkota
Master’s Student

Dikshya Devkota’s Masters research aims to understand gender norms in biodiversity conservation funding and governance institutions at the national level in Bhutan. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK.

Sonia Christhel J. Padonou
Master’s Student

Sonia Padonou’s research maps and analyzes the long-term socio-economic and environmental impacts of conservation funding around Benin’s two National Parks (Park Pendjari and Park W). She holds a professional Master’s degree in development, environment and societies from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium and an undergraduate degree in agronomy from the University of Parakou, Benin. 

Francis Paulino
Master’s Student

Francis Paulino’s research maps conservation funding in Zambia and analyzes its relationship with the country’s biodiversity needs and priorities. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Florida International University.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Jennifer Zavaleta Cheek

Jennifer Zavaleta Cheek is a sustainable development scholar who studies complex human-natural systems. Her research interests range from food systems, community forestry management, and human dimensions of biodiversity conservation. She earned her Ph.D. from the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan in 2019. Her dissertation work focused on how livelihood strategies like income diversity and capacity building like women’s empowerment are associated with food security in rainfed regions of India. Her post-doctoral research focuses on how to fund biodiversity conservation, including capacity building initiatives, in order to have long-term impact and the linkages between forests and poverty.

Undergraduate Students

Anneli Cers

Anneli is majoring in Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences and is interested in international environmental policy. Through the Ignite Undergraduate Research Program, she is conducting research on international conservation funding and its effects.

Nikolas Merten

Nikolas Merten graduated (with honors) with a double major in Political Science and Earth, Society, & Environmental Sustainability. He wrote a senior honors thesis on the role of NGOs in community conservation in Namibia. He continues to work as a research assistant on various projects with the Miller Research Group and will start a Master’s in Public Administration at the Ohio State University in Fall 2020.

Affiliated Researchers

Johanna Eklund is a postdoctoral researcher interested in evaluating the effectiveness of conservation policies and how sustainable they are over the long term. Her current research seeks to disentangle the many links between ecological outcomes of protected areas and the role of governance and funding to achieve sustainable outcomes. Johanna´s background is very interdisciplinary, she did her PhD with the Global Change and Conservation Lab at the Metapopulation Research Centre, University of Helsinki, and has since worked with both Development Studies and the Digital Geography Lab at the University of Helsinki, in collaboration with international partners.

Pablo Ordonez is a Ph.D. student in Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois. He is compiling and analyzing evidence on the impacts of agroforestry on agricultural productivity, ecosystem services, and human well-being.

Pushpendra Rana is a geographer who uses spatial analytical techniques, machine learning, and causal inference-based statistical approaches to explore research questions in the field of environmental governance. His work focuses on the study of coupled human-forest interactions, policy evaluation, and operationalization of the notion of geographic space in analytical problems. He is currently a senior officer with the Indian Forest Service. Prior to that, he was a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Miller Research Group at the University of Illinois. He was also a Post-Doctoral Research Scholar at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina following the completion of his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Illinois. He holds an M.S. in Soil Sciences and a B.S. in Agriculture from the CSK Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University in Palampur, India.


Roberta Afonso completed her Ph.D. in 2020.  Her dissertation examined the role of plantation forestry in regional economic development through a case study in Minas Gerais, Brazil.   She holds Masters degrees in Economics from the University of Illinois and the University of Brasilia and is currently working at the Central Bank of Brazil.

Festus Amadu completed his Ph.D. in 2018. His doctoral research examined the implementation and impacts of an aid-funded climate smart agriculture (CSA) project in southern Malawi. He used original survey data and econometric methods to assess the adoption of a range of CSA practices and evaluate their impacts on environmental and food security outcomes. He earned his Master´s degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Illinois and his BA from Njala University in Sierra Leone.

Carly Hopkins completed her degree in NRES (with honors) in 2020. She carried out independent research on the role of biodiversity conservation in the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) of coastal countries and served as research assistant for different projects. She will study environmental law at Pace Law School starting in Fall 2020.

Rebecca Laurent completed degrees in NRES and Political Science (with honors) in 2019. She carried out a cross-national study on the relationship between income inequality and climate change mitigation policies. She joined the NRES M.S. program in Fall 2019.

Kealie Vogel completed her B.S. with honors in NRES in 2019. She investigated the social-ecological impacts of on-farm tree management in Southern Illinois. She joined the NRES M.S. program in Fall 2019.

Past Members

Shiyuan Dong completed her BS in NRES in 2017. She conducted research on the relationship between conservation policy and social media (especially Weibo or “Chinese Twitter”) in China. She went on to complete her MS in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

Emily Guske completed her NRES degree (with highest honors) in May 2020. She conducted research about property rights and the historical land use of the Sustainable Student Farm on the University of Illinois campus. She will join the NRES M.S. program in Fall 2020.

Hsin-Chieh Hsieh completed her Master’s degree in Statistics at the University of Illinois. She helped to develop and use machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics to assess the long-term impacts of forestry programs and policies in India, the United States and elsewhere.

Dana Johnson was a James Scholar in NRES at Illinois working with the Miller Research Group. She conducted research to identify international aid flows for forest landscape restoration. She is now pursuing her MS in NRES at Illinois.

Kangjae Lee is a Ph.D. student in Informatics at the University of Illinois. He used geo-spatial data analytics to assist with research on the long-term impacts of forestry programs and policies in India, the United States and elsewhere.

Dr. Anthony Waldron was a Visiting Scholar during Spring 2016. Prior to that, he was a researcher/lecturer at Oxford University.  At Illinois, his work focused on a global study of the impact of conservation funding on biodiversity outcomes, among other topics.

Adam Yusen was a double major in Political Science and Economics, with a minor in NRES. He worked on a systematic literature review on social and ecological impacts of agroforestry. He started the Environmental Law Program at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law in Fall 2019.

Yuezhou Yang worked with the Miller Research Group to examine World Bank engagement with property rights issues in forest and fisheries projects. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 2017 and is now pursuing her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Ziwei (Vivian) Zhang is completed her degree (with highest honors) in Agricultural and Consumer Economics at Illinois. Through a College of ACES Applied Research and Extension Summer Internship, she worked with the Miller Research Group to examine evidence on the funding and impacts of agroforestry, with a particular focus on China. In Fall 2020, she will start a Master’s degree in international affairs focusing on environment and energy at Columbia University.