About Michelle Y. Merrill, Ph.D.

seeking new opportunities in sustainability, education and/or anthropology
Image01 200x300pxlCV
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Editor, Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia (Routledge, Singapore; ISBN 9781138681415)
 in Biological Anthropology, Duke University
BA in Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz

How can we connect with, learn from and teach each other, so together we can co-create a regenerative, resilient culture?

I am a passionate sustainability advocate, and an international expert in pedagogy for sustainability.mym_fwd_on_climate_Feb2013 I began my academic career studying primate behavioral ecology,  but my experiences in the rainforests of Zaire (1996) and Sumatra (1999-2000) highlighted the importance of global sustainable development for the future of bonobos, orangutans, humans, and other species.

I am always seeking new opportunities to practice, promote, and/or research effective education for sustainability. I have over 15 years experience in teaching, training and research around higher education systems and pedagogies. I am on the advisory board of the National Ecology and Environment Foundation (NEEF, India). I won the 2013 John D. Hurd Award for Teaching Excellence at Cabrillo College. I have developed and delivered novel courses and training programs, in addition to over 20 international conference presentations and dozens of workshops, seminars and guest lectures on sustainability, social learning or evolutionary anthropology (see CV  for details).

My interests are teaching, learning, the evolution of culture and culture change, and applying those concepts to sustainability: facilitating ways to connect with, learn from and teach one another to co-create a resilient, regenerative future. I engage principles, examples and metaphors from ecology and evolutionary biology in solving human design problems in both the social and technological arenas, especially systems thinking and biomimicry.

I’ve taught and lectured on evolutionary biology, social networks, anthropology, sustainability and communication for groups ranging from junior high school students to advanced university and professional audiences. I’ve studied animal behavior, evolutionary biology, tropical ecology, and social networks.  I’m fascinated with applied complexity science, resilience thinking, and the future of technology and society.

The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
~Gregory Bateson


In 2014, I began a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Environment and Sustainability Research Cluster of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, working on issues of sustainability and pedagogy, including education for sustainable development, emphasizing higher education in Southeast Asia.  I am the main organizer for a community of practice on Education for Sustainability in Asia, and lead editor on the book Education and Sustainability: Paradigms, Policies and Practices in Asia (Routledge, Singapore; ISBN: 978-1-138-68141-5).

From 2006-2013, I taught Anthropology courses at Cabrillo College (including “Surviving the Future: The (Re)Emergence of Sustainable Cultures”), where I earned the John D. Hurd Award for Teaching Excellence. I was the faculty advisor for the Cabrillo Sustainability Council (student club), an active member of the Cabrillo College Climate Initiative Task Force, and supported students in activities and independent studies related to campus sustainability and social justice.

In 2005-2006, I was involved in the replication project for the Digital Bridge Academy at Cabrillo College, developing the pilot version of the instructor training materials for what would become the Academy for College Excellence FELI program. In this work, I learned more about experiential and team-based education and the experience of at-risk students in community colleges. I also worked occasionally as an eco-literacy consultant with Emergent Systems.

Observational Learning in Sumatran Orangutans

My PhD dissertation (Duke University, 2004) was on orangutan sociality and the question of orangutan cultures. My graduate research centered on the evolution of cooperation, social learning, culture and the origins of technology through the study of non-human primates. I studied bonobos (Pan paniscus) at the Language Research Center and in a rainforest in Congo (Zaire) and orangutans (Pongo abelii) in the Sumatran rainforests.

I’ve managed several other blogs, including one for my teaching (Michelle Merrill’s Cabrillo Anthropology Classes), another for Cabrillo College’s sustainability initiatives (original was deleted, but some remains at Cabrillo GreenSteps), and one for my writing and things related to science fiction (The Imagined Worlds of Michelle Yvonne Merrill).

Finally, I am a nerd.  Dyed-in-the-wool, knows a D20 from a Dyson Sphere, nerd.  Huge fan of Joss Whedon (can recite many Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly episodes chapter and verse) and Babylon 5, still happy to buy comic books or play MMORPGs, was in a Rocky Horror Picture Show cast for years, love to browse NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, attend CONTACT conferences, and wish I had more time to read speculative fiction novels.  Actually, also writing a speculative fiction novel, or more like two, in all that free time I imagine I must have in some alternate reality.

My goal with the blog is to write about things that interest me as a thinker and scholar (and yes, that sounds pretentious, but I think I’ve earned it at this point). These fall under the larger headings of ‘culture change’ and ‘living systems,’ with an over-arching focus on sustainability (and some occasional forays into general nerd-dom). If these things are also interesting to you, welcome! Let’s talk… (connect with me). If not… well… diversity is the soul of resilience, so to each her own.


Oh yeah, all text on this site is under a Creative Commons Creative Commons License
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, with love.

2 responses to “About Michelle Y. Merrill, Ph.D.

  1. Hi Michelle,
    It’s Michelle B. I hope you are well! I have some exciting travel plans but don’t have your email address. Would you please email me? Thanks 🙂


  2. Pingback: Declaring Independent Interdependence | Ponderings of a Perplexed Primate

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