Graduate Mentor and Associate Faculty Mariana Altrichter

February 15, 2019 - By Sara Reviele

Mariana Altrichter

Graduate Mentor and Associate Faculty member Mariana Altrichter visited the Chaco of Northern Argentina in May 2018 with her husband Peter Sherman and their two daughters. Originally from Argentina herself, Mariana was excited to design and organize an environmental education program, create bilingual (Spanish and Wichi indigenous language) educational materials, and train local people to work in schools doing conservation education activities. Peter assisted in generating locally-based educational materials by photographing the area. Mariana has been conducting research in this region for nearly 20 years.

The Chaco of Northern Argentina is an undeveloped region where “remote rural and indigenous peoples live in harmony with their natural environment in subsistence lifestyles that have been sustained for generations.” According to Mariana, the livelihoods of these peoples and the local biodiversity upon which they depend are threatened by international market forces that drive increasing soy production to feed the high demand for meat among developed countries. Protecting the local cultures and the region’s biodiversity are important to Mariana and her family. “They have much of what matters most to them in regards to family, self-sufficiency, an outdoor and peaceful existence, and a deep and meaningful connection to their lands and the animals and plants with whom they share it.” Sharing time with local families in the Chaco was “a powerful reminder of how much we are missing in our consumer society that values an extractive lifestyle”.  It is important “to recalibrate our concepts of what really matters.”

With a Ph.D. in Natural Resource Management and a Master of Science in Wildlife Conservation, Mariana has found her main line of work to in conservation with a focus on community-based conservation. Mariana believes that the underlying issues of biodiversity loss are of a social nature, therefore, she incorporates social sciences into her interdisciplinary approach to research. Due to her profuse research on the ecology and conservation of peccaries, and on the role of peccaries as a protein source for indigenous people, Mariana was invited to chair the IUCN Species Survival Commission Peccary Specialist Group.

With her social and interdisciplinary lenses, Mariana also became more aware of the impact children’s loss of regular contact with nature has on the conservation of biodiversity. She decided to design a nature-based camp in Prescott called “All Children in the Woods” to address this issue. Mariana’s ultimate goal with this camp is to “help children connect with nature, with one another, to learn and to have fun. Through diverse activities children are inspired to creatively engage with nature, to practice cooperation and respect, and to develop a sense of wonder and appreciation for the diversity of nature and human beings.” Aside from her enormous contributions and time dedicated to research and environmental education, Mariana has “designed and carried out a multitude of conservation projects that continue growing and making positive changes to improve biodiversity conservation incorporating local people's needs.”

In addition to her research, Mariana has been teaching at various colleges since 1997 and at Prescott College since 2011. She has taught a diversity of field courses such as Globalization and Environment in Latin America, Conservation and tourism in Maasai land, Kenya, Urban-wildland interface, Eco-tourism and Community-based Conservation in Costa Rica, and Conservation of Biodiversity and Indigenous Cultures in Mexico. Prescott College is excited to announce that Mariana and Peter are planning to lead another study abroad course to Costa Rica in the Summer of 2019. Mariana enjoys teaching courses abroad because “students can have transformative experiences, become more globally aware and culturally sensitive.” Many Prescott College students have also had the pleasure of contributing to Mariana’s nature camp through class-based volunteering, hired positions and senior projects. It is Mariana’s ultimate goal in her teaching career to “advance the interdisciplinary understanding of social-ecological systems and promote an education that forms broadly- and deeply-thinking, compassionate students through transformative-experiential education. I believe that interdisciplinary teaching helps to empower students to comprehend environmental and social problems as interlinked and as part of larger scales of complex historical, political and economic dynamics.”