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SUNY Potsdam Professor Dr. Claudia J. Ford Awarded Fellowship in Planetary Thinking

April 6, 2022

SUNY Potsdam Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Claudia J. Ford Honored with Fellowship at Justus-Liebig-Universität in Giessen, Germany 

SUNY Potsdam Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Claudia J. Ford has been selected for a fellowship in planetary thinking at the Justus-Liebig-Universität in Giessen, Germany.

SUNY Potsdam Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Claudia J. Ford has been awarded an innovative fellowship through the Panel on Planetary Thinking at Justus-Liebig-Universität in Giessen, Germany. 

The four-year program aims to stimulate transdisciplinary dialogues between the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the arts. Ford was chosen from among hundreds of applicants from around the world to take part in the unique program. She is set to travel to Germany to complete her fellowship this summer. 

Fellows of the Planetary Scholars and Artists in Residence Program receive the unique opportunity to engage in transdisciplinary dialogues while exploring how academia and the arts grapple with the manifold relations between societies and the planet. 

Dr. Ford’s fellowship project is titled “What Earth is Made of: Planetary Materials, Indigenous Knowledge and the Gaia Hypothesis.” 

Humans, animate and inanimate beingswe all have in common the DNA of a star. Conceiving of the planet as Gaia, a self-regulating complex system or super-organism, maps onto indigenous ecological thinking about human/planetary interactions and the cosmology that describes kincentric ecological relationships between humans and the planet,” Ford said. “Enlarging our philosophical perspective of the Gaia hypothesis allows us to grapple with this idea that we are all of one origin, made of the same planetary substances, yet exist as a species with supremely different modes of being, worldviews, and paradigms about how to be in sustainable relationship with this unitary planet and our common origins. 

Ford said she plans to focus on a central question of how to wed the unitary nature of planetary materials and origins with the diverse nature of cultural understandings of those materials and origins. 

“Art making and storytelling honor the different paradigms of research, knowledge creation, and knowledge sharing that inform this project. The arts pay tribute to the methodologies underlying the indigenous knowledge of all peoples, making complex scientific and philosophical topics visible to make them more accessible,” she said. 

Ford has enjoyed a global career in academia, international development and women’s health spanning four decades and all continents. A tenured professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at SUNY Potsdam, she teaches ethnobotany, indigenous knowledge, gender studies, international business, environmental justice and environmental literature in classrooms and workshops. Ford is a visual artist and writer and serves on the boards of directors of organizations that are committed to ending poverty, racism and injustice in food systems, along with transforming the practice of agriculture to renew the vitality of the earth, the integrity of our food, and the health and wholeness of our communities.  

She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Columbia University, a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, a Master of Business Administration degree in health administration from Antioch University, and Ph.D. in environmental studies, also from Antioch University. She was recognized by SUNY System Administration as an inaugural PRODiG (“Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion and Growth”) Faculty member. 

In the Panel on Planetary Thinking, Justus-Liebig-Universität researchers from the humanities, social sciences, cultural studies, natural and life sciences work together with very different methodological approaches. The panel will bundle the knowledge at the University of Giessen in order to contribute to the international debate through its own research perspective on planetary thinking. 

Environmental studies is a truly interdisciplinary major at SUNY Potsdam, incorporating course offerings from 14 departments and programs designed to prepare the environmental leaders of the future. For more information, visit 

About SUNY Potsdam:  

Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit 

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