Neak LouksName: Neak Loucks (pronouns: they/them)
Year in program, program: 6th year in anthropology department graduate program
Award: 2021 Outstanding Service Award from School of Social Sciences
Hometown: Hamilton, MT
Undergraduate Institution: Bowdoin College

What made you decide to pursue anthropology? And at UCI?

Being offered the analytical tools of anthropology in my undergraduate education was enriching and invigorating, and that sense has grown through my pursuit of a graduate degree; the way my own worldview has changed through developing my skills as an anthropologist has resulted in personal fulfillment and growth, as well as has made me more effective in the many ways I choose to engage with communities I serve and am a part of. The UCI Anthropology Department was a good fit for my research interests due to the department’s expansive approach to defining anthropological questions and objects of study.

What does your research seek to explain?

My research examines conflicts around public land management and use, considering the challenges and double binds that agencies, advocates, and land users come up against as they strive to bring about particular landscapes and management regimes. Focusing ethnographically on how these interactions and efforts play out around a contentious national monument in southern Utah, I probe what kinds of education can play a role in addressing complex questions of environmental stewardship in a politically-charged space.

With efforts to shape public land management spanning from local communities to national movements, and with numerous tacit and explicit value systems coming head to head, my interlocutors and I are forced to grapple with what it means to acknowledge and respond to such differences in an ever-changing political environment and an evolving field of conservation. My research seeks to be in conversation with those working conservation and land management fields, challenging default assumptions to work toward newly envisioned ways of carrying out land management and education.

What do you plan to do after finishing your graduate degree?

I’m seeking opportunities to apply my training and knowledge developed through UCI’s anthropology Ph.D. program in ways that focus on engaged scholarship. I’m especially interested in bringing about educational opportunities that create multi-disciplinary approaches to engaging with a place and that utilize and value diverse knowledge frameworks.

What grants, fellowships and awards have you received while in pursuit of your graduate degree, and what activities have you been involved in as an Anteater?

2021 Inclusive Excellence Award, UC Irvine
2020-2021 National Fellow, Environmental Leadership Program
2018 Pedagogical Fellow

2020 Distant Pedagogy Fellow | UCI Dept. of Anthropology. Completed rapid course design and online course infrastructure on Canvas LMS to support short-notice shift to remote teaching during COVID-19 pandemic.
2019 Field School Instructor | Mississippi River School Open Seminar. St. Louis Anthropocene Field Campus, March 8-10, 2019; New Orleans Anthropocene Field Campus, September 2-7, 2019.
2018 Teaching Assistant Training Program Facilitator | UCI Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation. Designed and executed 12 hour Teaching Assistant Professional Development Program for incoming Anthropology TAs.
2020-Present Kane Education Foundation | Board Member.
2019 Ombudsperson | Ethics Committee for 2019 Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Meeting. Sept. 1-8, 2019, New Orleans.
2019 Co-Facilitator | “Cultivating Habits of Accessible Teaching” Series (Inclusive Instruction Working Group), UC Irvine.
2019 Co-founder/Co-Organizer | Inclusive Instruction Working Group, UC Irvine.
2018, ’19 Project Manager | Dissertation Writing Retreat, UC Irvine Department of Anthropology.
2018 Pedagogical Fellow | UC Irvine Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation.
2017-Present Graduate Mentor | Professional Development Peer Mentoring Program, UC Irvine Department of Anthropology.
2017-2018 Graduate Mentor | Anthropology Graduate-Undergraduate Mentoring Program, UC Irvine Department of Anthropology.
2017-2018 Graduate Representative | UC Irvine Department of Anthropology (elected).
2017-2018 Co-organizer | Multi-disciplinary Rural America Reading Group. UC Irvine.
2017 Conference Organizer | Anthropology in Transit Graduate Student Conference. UC Irvine Department of Anthropology.
2016-2017 Program Coordinator | “[Working Title] Ethnographic Writing Workshop.” UC Irvine School of Social Sciences Dean’s Workshop Series.
2016 Fellow | Climate Action Training Program. UC Irvine.

In community during graduate school: I’ve coached youth rock climbing in Santa Ana, as well as coach youth cross country and teach tap dancing in my research field site.

Who has played an important role in your life thus far and why?

Academically speaking, I’ve been fortunate to have meaningful mentoring relationships with my advisors and other professors--first with Sara Dickey and Krista Van Vleet at Bowdoin College, and later with numerous professors at UCI but especially Angela Jenks and Kim Fortun. Other formative guidance has come from my triathlon coaches, Simon Marshall and Lesley Patterson, and a number of close friends.

Any unique circumstances/life experiences that have had an impact or played a major role in where you are today?

I think growing up in a small town not too dissimilar from where I conduct my dissertation research has been a real strength for being able to pursue research regarding politically-charged land management issues.

Any other interesting tidbits you would like to share?

Outside of my research and other work, I love any and all outdoor activities and sports, especially trail running, triathlon, rock climbing, and archery.


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