Flinn-Brown Fellow Clare Aslan a leader in sustainability research at NAU

November 10, 2023

By Jessica Vaile

Fellows Spotlight

Clare Aslan

(Flagstaff, 2017)

School of Earth and Sustainability
Northern Arizona University


1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?

I am the Director of the School of Earth and Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, as well as the Co-Director of the NAU Center for Adaptable Western Landscapes. In these administrative roles, I manage faculty and students in seven degree programs, to offer training to the next generation of sustainability professionals, environmental scientists, hydrologists, and geologists. I also lead a large research group focused on sustainability science. We conduct solutions-oriented research aimed at understanding how forests, rangelands, and water sources can be effectively managed in the face of accelerating environmental change.

The natural beauty and uniqueness of northern Arizona, with its canyons and forests, have long attracted students and scholars to this region, making the environmental and natural sciences a pillar of excellence within the university. NAU’s current strategic priorities include impactful scholarship, community engagement, and sustainable stewardship of resources. As the public university tasked with serving rural and first-generation students, as well as a recognized minority-serving institution, NAU is often the portal through which Arizona’s higher education policies interface with underserved communities. A major focus of my role is to connect with these communities by engaging students in transformative and experiential education, opening new growth opportunities for them and linking them with the remarkable ecosystems of northern Arizona. Through my administration, teaching, and research, I aim to make impactful careers accessible to a growing population of committed and dedicated new professionals. Meanwhile, my research links to Arizona’s public policy emphasizes resource management, sustainable agriculture, and fire preparedness and mitigation.

2. Do you have a favorite quote that is meaningful to you?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –Annie Dillard

This quote, to me, exemplifies the importance of mission-centered careers that aim to serve our communities and society. The challenges we face as a state and nation are immense. For me, daily work that aims to contribute to solutions has been essential to maintain my optimism and energy and motivation. The dream of higher education is to serve society by opening the doors of meaningful careers to all individuals. We strive to help our students channel their talents to achieve their dreams and contribute to their communities.

3. Is there a book you would recommend to the Fellows?

I recently finished Flinn Scholar alum Melissa Sevigny’s wonderful new book, “Brave the Wild River,” and I highly recommend it! Melissa sweeps the reader along on a beautiful, true-story adventure anchored in extensive research. The wonder and diversity of the Grand Canyon permeate the book, and it is a remarkable testimony to groundbreaking women scientists.

4. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?

The Fellows Network has facilitated collaborations and networking across the three universities, allowing me to exchange ideas with Fellows at  the University of Arizona and Arizona State University and to connect with them over shared programs to elevate higher education across the full state. Beyond the university setting, I have been involved in the very active sustainability community in northern Arizona. Faced with escalating wildfire and flooding hazards, our community has been in the vanguard of efforts to confront the causes of climate change at a local level, taking essential and challenging steps to reduce carbon emissions. Many Flinn-Brown Fellows are in leadership positions in northern Arizona, and the network has been essential for advancing important dialogue over the past several years.

5. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?

Economically, ethnically, and politically, Arizona is one of the most diverse states in the nation. Our counties and communities differ widely from one another. From Phoenix to Sierra Vista to Prescott to Tuba City, our landscapes and lived experiences span an enormous range of variability. Engaging all these landscapes and viewpoints in Arizona’s civic conversations and policies will help maximize the state’s resources and resilience. I see universities and higher education as an engine for this engagement. As our students learn more about the structure and foundations of our systems, they learn how they can play a role and make a difference. Expanding the ways in which our universities cultivate civic understanding and engagement is an emerging opportunity that we as a state are only beginning to tap.

View all Flinn-Brown Fellow profiles here.