Meet the 2021-22 Diana Liverman Scholars

Mira Bella French is a junior studying Studio Art with a photography emphasis and a minor in Psychology. Growing up in a small rural town outside of Austin, Texas, Mira’s love and appreciation for the natural world began taking shape at a young age. Within her creative practice, Mira is largely influenced by her natural surroundings, focusing on the relationship between individuals and their environment. Currently, Mira is working with the Tucson Village Farm and The University of Arizona Community Garden to document their long-term efforts towards sustainable agriculture and food waste reduction. After graduation, Mira plans to continue exploring the impact that digital media can have on connecting communities to their surrounding natural resources.


Mira Kaibara is a sophomore with a major in Neuroscience and a minor in Environmental Studies. Her multicultural and Montessori background have given Mira an environmental and community-based sense of identity and responsibility since a very young age. As a Catalina Island children’s counselor and a student of language and communication in STEM, Mira is passionate about engaging people with natural sciences and enhancing widespread accessibility to research and climate change solutions -- with a particular aspiration to assist disproportionately impacted minority groups. She explores these issues by participating in agrivolatic sustainability research at the Biosphere 2 with the honors program and strives to continue such work as a Liverman Scholar. 


Amrita Khalsa is a junior at the University of Arizona majoring in Food Studies. Born, and raised in Tucson, she spent 3 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she completed an AAS in culinary arts with a specialization in pastry at Santa Fe Community College, while working at several restaurants. After Returning to Tucson, she started a home-based bakery supplying local restaurants and private clients with vegan cookies and other healthy treats. She is a regular volunteer at Mission Garden and Iskashitaa Refugee Network and is concerned about the impacts the food system, and our food choices have on our personal health and the health of the environment. Through the Liverman Scholar program Amrita looks forward to utilizing and connecting the challenges within Food Studies and the environment to create positive social change.


Aliya McDonald is a senior majoring in Literacy, Learning, and Leadership with double minors in History and Art History. Growing up a low income student, Aliya has always been passionate about equity in education, and her love of working with kids has prompted her to study education. Currently, she works at a community youth center and is also involved with Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, a program that serves and provides support for girls with incarcerated parents. Aliya plans on pursuing a Masters degree in the educational field after graduating.


Nadira Mitchell is a junior majoring in Natural Resources with an emphasis on Wildlife Conservation and Management and a minor in American Indian Studies. She is interested in the integration of Indigenous perspectives in wildlife, conservation science, and natural resources policy-who aspires to advocate for environmental equity in Indigenous communities. Her passion for the Sonoran Desert, conservation and science started from her early experience of discovering snails during the monsoons of Tucson. In high school, Nadira was introduced to science communication, and advocacy as a junior docent with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, her conservation research skills through the UA Science: Sky School’s Research Apprenticeship Program, and mentorship through the UA Women in Science & Engineering Mentorship program.  As an undergraduate she continues to conduct conservation research through the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, expanded her academic skills as an Arizona Science Engineering & Math Scholar, interned with the Collaborative Conservation and Adaptation Strategy Toolbox (CCAST), focused on Indigenous environmental justice issues through the American Indian Student Initiatives club, and community service as a board of director member for the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Foundation.


Chi Nguyen is a sophomore majoring in Environmental Science. She grew up in Hanoi, Vietnam, and experienced first-hand environmental issues such as air and water pollution which led to developing a passion for sustainability and solving climate change. The solution to climate change isn't just creating the best innovation, technology, or good science, but also raising people's awareness through communication and leadership. Through her education journey, she hopes to gain the skill sets of a researcher, as well as of a communicator. She is currently volunteering in Dr. Gerardo Lopez's lab, working on a project of ensuring environmental and food safety. Outside of the classroom, she is also the Vice President for the Environmental Science club. Through the Liverman Scholar's program, she hopes to grow and deepen her communication skills by learning from communication experts, and grow to become an effective scientific communicator.


Diego Palmisano is a freshman who is majoring in both Environmental Science and Veterinary Science. Often visiting his grandparents in Puerto Rico, Diego developed a love for the Earth and all things nature at a young age. Following a passion for social and environmental justice, throughout high school, Diego was an advocate for Latinx rights, and created a club in his school to help with this mission. Focusing now on the environment, Diego believes that social justice and the environment are connected, and wants to serve as an advocate for communities most at risk. For future plans, Diego hopes to attend veterinary school to become a wildlife veterinarian and serve as an advocate for wildlife and the communities who interact with them worldwide.


Kelly Rushford (she/her) is a second-year Environmental Science major with an emphasis in Communication, Leadership, and Sustainability and a Minor in Spanish. She is an alumna of the KEYS research program and a student in the ASEM Scholars program. She is also involved in environmental research in the labs of Dr. Jon Chorover and Dr. Malak Tfaily. Her passion for environmental issues stems from her enjoyment of exploring the outdoors, reading science books, and discussing social and environmental injustices with her peers. Through these learning experiences, Kelly developed the perspective that addressing our relationships with one another and the earth is fundamental to achieving social and environmental justice. Kelly plans to use her Environmental Science degree to advocate for underserved communities in their efforts to achieve social and environmental justice with environmental health communication and community-supported action.


Frances Slater is a senior majoring in Business Economics and minoring in Computer Science. She grew up skiing, mountain biking, and running in Northern Minnesota, as well as experiencing the increasingly extreme winters which quickly led her to develop a passion for protecting the environment. After hearing about many college campuses arguing for divestment, she found her first major intersection between climate justice and economics where she could play a part. Since, she has helped grow the grassroots organization UAZDivest. Additionally, she works as a communications student worker for the Arizona Institutes for Resilience (AIR) and informs students of the environmental opportunities offered at UArizona, in Tucson, and beyond. She is excited to be a preceptor for the Liverman Scholars program to further enhance her environmental communication skills and find more ways to connect economics to climate justice and environmental communication.


Brenai Smith never knew immediately what her life path would look like growing up. She had a talent in the arts and even achieved a scholarship with the School Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but she couldn’t see herself having a career in it. So she joined the U.S. Air Force as an enlisted member for the benefits, namely education and independence. It was through this career in the military that she achieved an Associates in Applied Science: Entomology while simultaneously meeting other like-minded souls in the public health and environmental field. She realized working alongside them gave her more purpose than she had ever felt before and wanted to dive deeper into that world. But unfortunately, where the military wanted her to progress was not in line with her personal goals. Now, ten years later, she is an environmental science major at University of Arizona, ardent to see where this path can take her and who she can help along the way.


Peyton Smith is a senior studying Environmental Studies with minors in Hydrology and Spanish, as well as a member of greek life and UAZDivest. Peyton grew up with two sisters and many pets in Denver, Colorado, and spent her childhood and high school years dedicated to playing the cello. As a student at the UofA, Peyton has developed a passion and drive for social and environmental justice and which has inspired her to pursue a career in education to make it more accessible and equitable to students everywhere. In her free time, Peyton still plays cello but has discovered a fondness for multi-media painting and graphic design. Peyton hopes to stay involved in activism as an educator to help strengthen environmental awareness and justice within her community.


Ryan Thien is a sophomore majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Raised in a rural Washington farming community and inspired by his mother’s work in the agricultural fields of Arizona, Ryan developed an interest in the intersection of environmentalism, healthcare, and science. Ryan’s experiences serving in the Washington State Senate, consulting with school district equity and inclusion, and volunteering at a rural clinic offer him a unique perspective to analyze the world around us that he hopes to utilize and further develop as a 2021-22 Liverman Scholar. He hopes to one day work in healthcare, communicating with patients and educating community members about the environmental implications of medicine and healthcare.


Noah Weaver is currently a Sophomore at the University of Arizona. He is majoring in Physiology and Medical Sciences, with minors in both Spanish and Gov't and Public Policy, on the Pre Medical track. He is actively involved in many different clubs at U of A and organizations throughout the Tucson community. He loves doing anything outside, from hiking Seven Falls at Sabino Canyon to biking the great paths that surround Tucson. Traveling has always been a great love of his, and he can not wait to continue this passion through exploring new locations around the area. Although he has plans of entering the medical field as a Peds Physician, he has always had a deep interest in climate change and different policies that can be enacted to better our communities and world. He can not wait to further this passion through this program and work with others to help be the change the world vitally needs at the moment!


Samantha Wetherell is a sophomore at the University of Arizona studying Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law for her BA and Environmental and Water Resource Economics for her BS. Being born and raised in an era in which Arizona has been perpetually in drought and each summer has record-breaking high temperatures, Samantha has long felt the effects of climate change and seen its detrimental effects. Thus, Samantha has spent her formative years fighting for climate justice and social change through her time volunteering for and leading environmental efforts through clubs like Defenders of Wildlife and organizations such as the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Hoping to correct the misconception that nature and society are separate and how climate justice is intertwined with social justice, Samantha hopes to pursue a career in environmental law after graduation.


Chris Zatarian is a junior studying Music at the Fred Fox School of Music, with a minor in Environmental Science. With a love and reverence for the natural world, Chris seeks to explore the ways in which arts and humanities can be used to motivate, inspire, and build community centered around protecting and living in harmony with the Earth and its inhabitants. He is also passionate about plants, food justice, urban gardening, and plant-based living. In the future, Chris aspires to study ethnomusicology, and especially its relatively new subcategory of ecomusicology, exploring the intersections of music and sound with ecology and the natural environment.