Focus on Faculty

Puneet Dwivedi

Puneet Dwivedi among trees outside of the Warnell School. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

(Originally published March 24, 2019)

Puneet Dwivedi, an associate professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, motivates students to undertake advanced research projects while emphasizing critical thinking and innovative solutions in his teaching and mentoring.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) degree in 2003 from the Institute of Engineering and Technology of Devi Ahilya University in India. Then, I enrolled in the Master of Business Administration program at the Indian Institute of Forest Management. After finishing my MBA program in 2005, I worked as a program officer at Winrock International India in New Delhi for about a year. In the fall of 2006, I started my doctoral degree program at the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation in the area of forest policy and economics. I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation in 2010 and immediately started as a postdoctoral research associate (supported by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute) at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In 2012, I moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to work as a postdoctoral research associate (supported by the Energy Biosciences Institute) for about a year. Now, as a faculty member in the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, my primary duties are undertaking advanced research in the area of forest sustainability, teaching courses on the interface of forestry and sustainability, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students to ensure their academic and professional success, and performing some administrative duties.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I started as an assistant professor of sustainability sciences at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources in October of 2013. I decided to take a faculty position at the Warnell School for several reasons. First, I am passionate about research, teaching and mentorship, and considering the reputation of the University of Georgia in these areas, I knew that this is the place where I wanted to be. Second, the Warnell School has a strong reputation of not only undertaking advanced research in the area of forestry and natural resources but also for ensuring good teaching outcomes for the students. Third, the high spirit of collaboration among faculty members was a big factor in joining the Warnell School. Fourth, I found that there is a strong sense of community in the Warnell School. Finally, Athens is an excellent town for raising a family and enjoying year-round activities in the areas of music, sports and the outdoors.

What are your favorite courses and why?
At the graduate level, my favorite course is FANR 8200, “Scientific Research in Forestry and Natural Resources,” as it introduces incoming master’s and doctoral students not only to the world of science, but also helps them in building a sound understanding about good scientific writing practices, the peer-review process, and ethics in science. Students also write their research proposals as a part of this course, so this course motivates them to think about their research starting from their very first semester at the University of Georgia. Seeing the progress of students over a semester, as they slowly but surely become professionals in science, is a rewarding experience for me. Teaching this course also gives me an opportunity to contribute my part to their future academic and professional success.

At the undergraduate level, my favorite course is FANR 1500, “Fundamentals of Sustainable Development,” which is an anchor course for the Undergraduate Certificate in Sustainability at the University of Georgia. There is a critical need to develop human resources that not only understand the importance of integration between social and natural systems, but also reflect upon the balance between the themes of people, planet, and prosperity for ensuring equitable development over time. That is why I particularly like teaching FANR 1500; students are not only appreciative of sustainability as a concept but are also well-prepared to actualize sustainability as a practice in their private and public lives.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have been very fortunate that I have had a chance to work with some extraordinary students at the University of Georgia. All my past and current doctoral students (a total of nine); master’s students (a total of four), and undergraduate students (a total of nine) are exploring advanced issues related to the sustainability of natural resources in the United States and beyond. I also received the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Award from the University of Georgia’s Office of Sustainability. I also appreciate the support of colleagues at the University of Georgia and beyond, which has helped me follow my passion for research, teaching and mentoring.

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
My research focuses on assessing the economic and environmental implications of using biomass-based feedstocks for energy generation in the United States. I also analyze factors that are affecting the participation of African-American forest landowners in federal and state forestry programs. My research lab is using some advanced tools for understanding the intrinsic motivations of family forest landowners for forest management. Additionally, my research focuses on the economics of land use change and assessing its impact on forest-based ecosystem services—especially carbon sequestration, water quality, and biodiversity. Finally, my research focuses on the role of private forest governance in ensuring sustainability of forestry resources worldwide.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I always try to bring my research knowledge back to the class by continuously updating the course outline and content. I developed an entire course—FANR 8460, “Management and Modeling of Forest Carbon Resources”—that I teach fall semester of every odd year solely based on my research expertise. I also am trying my best to promote research experiences for undergraduate students in my classes by continuously motivating them to undertake advanced research projects that can be converted into short research articles.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I try my best so that students can develop a habit of critical thinking and realize the importance of innovative solutions. My courses also help students develop good scientific writing practices and data management and analysis skills, as I feel that both are critical in the modern era for career advancement. I also promote public speaking among students, as it has become a significant skill in recent times. Additionally, I emphasize respectfulness, integrity, and responsibility through my courses. I hope that my courses are helping students achieve their best in the ever-evolving world of science in general, and in sustainability sciences in particular.

Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is curious, eager to learn, self-motivated, and a team player with a sense of purpose and a firm believer in ethics.

Favorite place on the campus is …
… the Tate Student Center. Whenever I visit that place, I feel energized just by looking at the sheer number of activities students are engaged in at the University of Georgia. It also gives me an opportunity to appreciate the diversity of the university and the number of resources available to students for their academic and professional success. Another favorite place is the intersection of Lilly Branch and the North Oconee River in South Campus. The tranquility of that place coupled with the flowing water and the chirping of birds directly connects your soul to the nature in an instance.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to …
spend time reading current affairs, landscaping, gardening, playing with my two daughters (Aanya and Esha), and helping my wife of 11 years, Richa.

Community/civic involvement includes….
I am the faculty advisor for the Indian Student Association at the University of Georgia. I stay in constant touch with current committee members to ensure that they can provide the necessary support and guidance to incoming students from India and are positively engaging with the local Indian community.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I like non-fiction books written in a story format backed up by data and field observations. In this regard, my favorite book as of now is “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. I enjoyed reading it, as this book brings out issues related to climate change in a manner that appeals to mind and soul at the same time.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
I was late for my very first class as a faculty member by five minutes! Navigating across the four buildings of the Warnell School can be tough, especially for a newbie like me at that time.