Student Spotlight Riva Denny

Riva is a doctoral candidate who joined the Graduate Program in the Department of Sociology at MSU in 2012. She is writing her dissertation on US farmers' nutrient management decisions and environmental knowledge. In addition to agriculture and the environment, Riva also studies food systems and food security. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods at multiple scales and is especially interested in including both social and ecological variables in the same analysis or model. She specializes in using multilevel and structural equation models to address her research questions.

Riva has completed the University-wide Environmental Science and Policy Program (ESPP) and Ecological Food and Farming System (EFFS) graduate specializations as well as the Environmental Science and Policy Environmental Systems Modeling Certificate. She is the 2017-18 recipient of the Full Year Fellowship for Long-term Ecological Research from the MSU Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) program, which is part of the National Science Foundation LTER Network.

Riva chose to do her PhD at the MSU Department of Sociology because it gave her the opportunity to get a degree in a fascinating discipline, while allowing her to pursue her interests in the social aspects of food, agriculture and the environment. Some of her favorite MSU experiences have been finding friends and collaborators among students in the sociology department as well as in other MSU departments. For example, she and a student from Integrative Biology wrote their ESPP capstone paper together after finding that they were both doing their dissertation research on nitrogen, but from different disciplinary perspectives. The writing process was collaborative and ultimately very rewarding. Their paper is currently under review at Ecology and Society.

A native of Athens, GA, Riva came to MSU by way of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Alabama. She attended Boston University as an undergrad, majoring in cultural anthropology, and spent her senior year on a comparative study abroad program that went to Tanzania, India, New Zealand and Mexico exploring some of the many manifestations of globalization. After graduating she spent a year and a half volunteering with Heifer International at their learning center at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, AR, where she facilitated experiential education programs on poverty and hunger.

She then attended Auburn University in Auburn, AL, completing her master's degree in rural sociology in 2012. She wrote her master's thesis on the differences between red meat inspection regulations at the state and federal levels and the implications that these differences have for small slaughterhouses and local meat production and distribution systems. An article based on her master’s work titled “The Importance of Governance Levels in Alternative Food Networks: The Case of Red Meat Inspection Rules” was published in Rural Sociology in 2016. This paper is the winner of the journal’s 2017 best paper award. In her free time Riva enjoys gardening and going on walks with her dog.