Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies

Elizabeth Schierbeek

Elizabeth Schierbeek

Elizabeth Schierbeek is currently working on her capstone, a thesis involving extensive fieldwork with the Maijuna community in rural Peru titled “Community Position Statements as Tools for Biocultural Conservation and Social Change: An Environmental Justice Case Study from the Peruvian Amazon.”  

With a strong foundation from her undergraduate degree (BA, Integrative Studies, George Mason University, 2017), Elizabeth extended her interest in social justice to environmental justice in the Peruvian Amazon. Interdisciplinary Studies’ Individualized Studies concentration, the “design it yourself” master’s degree, provided Elizabeth with flexibility and support to explore the intersections between indigenous rights, biocultural diversity, and environmental science. 

Elizabeth’s degree path examines biocultural conservation, a dual-focus approach to preserving biological diversity and cultural diversity, specifically within indigenous communities. Fieldwork in Peru enabled her to realize the connections between the Maijuna community and the local ecosystem. “I didn’t necessarily have it put together how interlinked the communities (Maijuna) and their local ecosystem were and how dependent they are on one another. That came through learning from all my courses, and MAIS has been a good spot to explore those ideas.” 

Elizabeth’s work with the Maijuna community has resulted in a “community position statement” that opposes a Peruvian government road project that would bisect Maijuna ancestral territory. As Elizabeth discovered through her research, this development threatens natural and cultural resources vital to the Maijuna and their traditional culture. The immediate effects of highway construction and accompanying impacts from colonization and deforestation would irreversibly alter the ecological composition of this currently roadless area, threatening local biodiversity and destroying thousands of hectares of carbon sequestering forest, further fueling global climate change. Working with the Maijuna community, as well as the Kichwa community, Elizabeth and her colleagues have conducted workshops to gather indigenous perspectives on the proposed road. The resulting document proposes alternatives to the new road in hope of swaying the Peruvian government to intercede. 

After graduation in 2020, Elizabeth will apply to Mason’s doctoral program in Environmental Science and Policy with an eye towards a career in academia. Her commitment to the Maijuna will continue, through research into biocultural conservation and climate change as well as support for the conservation of Maijuna ancestral lands and the preservation of their traditional culture.