Faculty Friday: Kathleen Galvin

In a special weekly series, the College of Liberal Arts is featuring a faculty member from one of our 13 departments. We asked questions about why they are passionate about the subjects they study and teach, and how they found their path to CSU. See all “Faculty Friday” features here.  

Kathleen GalvinKathleen Galvin

Professor, Department of Anthropology

“When I was very young, we would go to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Egyptian Mummy Exhibit always caught my imagination,” explained Colorado State University Professor of Anthropology and Alumna Kathleen Galvin. As she was recalling her early experiences with anthropology, she explained that her first major in college was history. “I still love history and learning about the history of landscapes and people in order to understand the complex problems that face us today. But, then I took an anthropology class – I think it was human evolution – and changed my major.”

Galvin works with colleagues from around the world to understand the problems that herders face in the light of extreme climate events, global commodity markets, energy development, land tenure changes among other pressures. Pastoralists, government officials, practitioners and other scholars collaborate in her interdisciplinary research to find real-world solutions for these complex human-environmental issues.

Kathleen Galvin and a group of local men in Turkana
Galvin taking the weights of men in Turkana.

As a biological anthropology alumna, Galvin has very strong ties to CSU. She worked for several years after graduation designing figures for peer-reviewed journals. Dissatisfied with the direction that work was taking her coupled with the desire to conduct her own research, she decided to go back to graduate school. Galvin completed her master’s at CSU and then applied for a PhD program to work with Professor of Anthropology Michael Little at Binghamton University in New York. Her dissertation focused on the health and well-being of Kenyan pastoralists by looking at their diet and nutrition.

Galvin returned to CSU as a Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory NSF postdoctoral fellow  and started teaching for anthropology. “I first did postdoctoral research in southern Ethiopia. I then had multiple grants to work in Tanzania looking at the interaction between conservation policy and human well-being in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo Game Controlled Area.”

She started her career in human biology and it morphed into placing these complex human-environment interactions into a larger cultural-environmental  context.

“Students are very interested in these human-environmental issues because they are so timely in global-environmental change,” explains Galvin. “I taught Humans and the Environment last spring and think that it is my favorite course to teach. Students like and understand the complexity and want to make a difference.”

Many rangelands around the world experience severe droughts and other extreme climate variability that have serious impacts on food production and health for pastoral populations. The groups that Galvin works with in Kenya are also dealing with land fragmentation and biodiversity conservation issues.

“Working in Africa is challenging and, most importantly, timely. Our research has an impact on the people in that environment because we are working with highly vulnerable people due to climate and other global changes. Many pastoralists earn their living under very harsh conditions.”

Participants of the Dryland Collaborative Institutions and Innovative Transformation to Sustainability
ISSC Workgroup Photo by John Eisele

Galvin is the director of the Africa Center in the School for Global Environmental Sustainability. “I thoroughly enjoy bringing together students and faculty that focus on solutions-oriented research for Africa. I hope to bring more Africans to Colorado State University to interact with our community.” In 2015, the Africa Center hosted Dryland Collaborative Institutions and Innovative Transformation to Sustainability, a workshop funded by the International Social Science Council. Practitioners, conservancy managers, and scholars came together from Mongolia, Africa, and the United States to design knowledge-to-action research. The collaborators developed research goals, design, execution, and evaluation together to find solutions to the livelihood issues facing pastoralists.

“I have never worked anywhere with pastoralists where I was not welcome,” says Galvin. She is very comfortable sitting in African dwellings and talking to the local people in the desert. “They speak from the heart while often having a hard life I really admire and respect them.”