DURHAM, N.C. -- Keqi He and Rafaella Lobo have each received the Nicholas School of the Environment’s 2024 Dean’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Manuscript, which recognizes excellence in graduate student research. Nicholas School Stanback Dean Lori Bennear will formally recognize the awardees at a Ph.D. graduation ceremony on May 10. Below are summaries of their prizewinning, published scholarship.

He’s research “Identifying driving hydrogeomorphic factors of coastal wetland downgrading using random forest classification models” was published October 2023 in Science of the Total Environment.

He, who is specializing in Earth and Climate Sciences, found that different types of coastal wetlands degrade differently. He and his co-authors investigated three types of wetland degradation, including woody and emergent herbaceous wetland loss, and conversions between them. Using machine learning methods, they studied wetlands in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern North Carolina from 1995 to 2019, and found factors like saltwater intrusion and flooding impact wetlands differently. Woody wetlands are most degraded by saltwater, while emergent herbaceous wetlands suffer from flooding and drought. The authors concluded understanding these factors can inform wetland protection and management.

Rafaella Lobo, who is concentrating on marine science and conservation, won with “A Whale of a Blindspot: The “Effectiveness” of Bribes, Threats, and Socialization in the International Whaling Commission”. The Alternatives: Global, Local, Political published Lobo’s study in February 2024. Lobo’s research addresses international governance for biodiversity conservation, particularly from the perspective of emerging economies. Lobo studied how developing countries behave at the International Whaling Commission. She found existing research had often ignored or simplified why developing countries act the way they do, assuming external influences like threats or bribes from developed countries are key motivating factors, rather than a developing country’s internal priorities.

Dean Lori Bennear presenting award to Rafaella Lobo in Love Auditorium

Rafaella recognized by Stanback Dean Lori Bennear at the Ph.D. Graduate Student Recognition Ceremony

The Nicholas School has presented these Dean’s Awards for Best Graduate Student Manuscript annually since 2008.