Apollinaire William, a doctoral student in Antioch University New England’s Environmental Studies PhD program, is the recipient of the 2016 Toni Murdock Student Innovation Award for his doctoral research and dissertation on land use issues in Rwanda, one of the many poor, developing countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change and climate variability. The award is given annually to a graduating student whose academic work implements innovative solutions to complex social, economic, or environmental challenges and helps to advance AUNE’s purpose of innovation for a just and sustainable society.
Growing up impoverished and often malnourished in Northern Rwanda, nearly 7,000 miles from Keene, in part, drives Apollinaire’s passion for returning to his homeland and his belief that an interdisciplinary approach to solutions is paramount.
While considering doctoral programs, he chose Antioch University New England for its interdisciplinary focus realizing that to come up with a solution to a problem, many different viewpoints must be considered.
“I looked at programs in Europe, and other programs in the United States,” he said. “Some are good, but none are so interdisciplinary. AUNE’s program touches on science, economics, environmental issues, and the human dimension. You need to bring in different disciplines, people with different skills, in order to work together and come up with strong, robust, and durable solutions. Every year rivers in the north and west of Rwanda flood. There is damage to crops and houses, cattle die, and people die. I hope my research will represent a voice for those farmers whose policy is forced on them without their engagement.”
Apollinaire views his work as service to the planet and its people. Having lived through the Rwandan genocide, he never lost sight of his dreams. In his heart and mind he retained the desire to continue his education, to contribute to humanity and to help make the world a better place.
“I used a participatory approach to conduct my study,” Apollinaire says. “I came to realize that the community has a body of knowledge that we never tap into. Most of the time scientists go into the field, collect data, and publish articles. No one from the community collaborates or reads the articles, yet the community are the ones to pay the bill, the ones who suffer those disasters.”
To gather his dissertation research, Apollinaire worked directly with farmers in Rwanda, combining participatory mapping techniques with interviews and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) modeling to ultimately improve the sustainability of agriculture and environmental stewardship. His research results are being formulated into recommendations to policy makers. He hopes this research will represent a voice for those farmers whose policy is forced on them without their engagement.
While completing PhD coursework and developing his dissertation proposal, Apollinaire volunteered his time and energy to develop and teach GPS, basic GIS and advanced GIS to Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians, Tanzanians, and Congolese, all members of the RNCEAR and lecturers or students at Universities in these countries.
In addition to conducting his doctoral his research, Apollinaire also made a tremendous impact at Antioch University.
Apollinaire’s vision and passion for education resulted in the creation of a GIS and spatial analysis lab on the AUNE campus. He used the funds made available to put together a well-functioning lab, where he assists students and faculty on GIS, remote sensing, poster and map printing, and where he offers workshops on evenings and weekends.
He also taught an elective class, Practical Map Making, to a group of second-year students in the Urban Sustainability program at Antioch University Los Angeles.
“Apollinaire did a masterful job of delivering what could be received as very dry material, with a very steep learning curve, to a room full of students who were riveted by his infectious enthusiasm, his expertise, and his deep conviction in the discipline,” said Dr. Donald Strauss, MFA chair and core faculty at Antioch University Los Angeles. “In reviews from his students, he received the highest praise across the board.”
Given the complexities of social, economic, and environmental challenges, Apollinaire is now collaborating with the MBA program at AUNE to develop a project aiming at bringing students from business/economics together with those from environmental studies to develop green energy initiatives within communities in Cheshire County, NH.
“This is a step toward long-term collaboration across departments in a multidisciplinary fashion,” says Apollinaire. It exemplifies his innovative and conceptual thinking and collaborative approach to problem solving, connecting multiple academic disciplines to understand an issue.
“Apollinaire William is an extraordinary human being,” says his advisor Dr. Beth Kaplin, core faculty and director of the Conservation Biology concentration at AUNE. “In his rather quiet and humble way, Apollinaire leads an inspirational life that creates positive change around him. He is a generous, kind, wise, and innovative individual.”
Apollinaire’s achievements will be recognized and the 2016 Toni Murdock Student Innovation Award will be formally presented to him at Antioch University New England’s commencement on Saturday, May 14.
# # #
About the Award: Tullisse (Toni) Murdock served as chancellor of Antioch University from 2005 to 2012 and as president of Antioch University Seattle from 1998 to 2005. During her tenure, Dr. Murdock presided over a period of significant change in the University. Chancellor Murdock led the University’s efforts to create an integrated and distinctive national university with five regional campuses that serve the unique needs of their respective regions. She consistently focused her leadership on the University’s mission to provide learner-centered education to empower adult students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and advance social, economic, and environmental justice. The Toni Murdock Student Innovation Award was established by the AUNE Board of Trustees to honor Dr. Murdock’s extraordinary tenure as an academic leader and Chancellor of Antioch University.