Alyssa Quan, 2024 Graduate School Engaged Scholarship Award Recipient

Alyssa Quan

(photo courtesy of Alyssa Quan)

Alyssa Quan, recipient of the 2024 Graduate School Engaged Scholarship Award, is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Conservation (ICON) program and the Odum School of Ecology at UGA who conducts groundbreaking research on the ecological and cultural importance of rivercane ecosystems in the Southeastern United States.

This recognition serves as a testament to the impact of her research, which delves into the intricate relationship between nature and culture. “I was honestly very surprised, but felt very honored to have my work recognized,” she shared.

Alyssa Quan performing field research

(photo courtesy of Alyssa Quan)

At the core of Quan’s research lies rivercane—a native bamboo species revered by the Cherokee and other indigenous groups. “Rivercane is considered a cultural keystone species,” Quan explains. “It’s not just a plant; it’s central to Cherokee culture and lifestyle.” Through her collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Quan coproduces research aimed at understanding and restoring rivercane ecosystems in the Southeast US.

But Quan’s work extends far beyond scientific inquiry; it’s about preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the region. By working alongside Cherokee partners like Dr. Caleb Hickman, Quan is not only contributing to ecological restoration but also honoring centuries-old traditions. “My research impacts both natural and cultural systems,” she affirms, highlighting the interconnectedness of ecology and indigenous knowledge.

Quan’s journey in graduate school has been shaped by the support of her community. “Obviously my Cherokee partners, in particular Dr. Caleb Hickman, have had a profound impact on my work,” she acknowledges. Additionally, the vibrant graduate student community at UGA has been a source of inspiration and encouragement throughout her academic endeavors.

Alyssa Quan performing field research

(photo courtesy of Alyssa Quan)

When asked about her choice of UGA and the Interdisciplinary Conservation (ICON) program, Quan’s response is clear. “I joined the ICON program because it allowed me to dig into the complexities of the ecological world in nontraditional ways,” she explains. Emphasizing the program’s departure from traditional academic thinking, Quan highlights the importance of innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration in tackling complex environmental challenges.

As Quan continues to navigate the intricate landscapes of academia and conservation, her work serves as a beacon of hope—a reminder that by honoring the land, we can also honor the rich tapestry of cultures that call it home. With each step forward, Alyssa Quan is forging connections, nurturing understanding, and leaving an indelible mark on both the scientific and cultural landscapes of the Southeast.

The University of Georgia Graduate School looks forward to seeing the positive impact Alyssa Quan will make in our community.


The inaugural Engaged Scholarship award recognizes extraordinary community-engaged scholarship and public service by graduate students, such as endeavors that advance the public service, outreach, and engagement mission at UGA. This award is established by the Graduate School in connection with UGA Public Service & Outreach and the Office of Service-Learning. Recipients are selected by a committee drawn from Public Service & Outreach-affiliated administrators and graduate faculty. Learn more here.


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