Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Vietnam 2018 Bios

Fifteen students and one professor from the University of Montana will be in Vietnam from December 28, 2017 – January 19, 2018 for the eigth annual study abroad field course focused on climate change impacts and adaptation in the Mekong Delta. This innovative program is made possible through a partnership between The University of Montana’s Mansfield Center and Can Tho University.

Students will study the intertwined relationships of society, environment, and economy, and look at the potential impacts of climate change to see how people are adapting, or planning to adapt, to the coming changes.

The group will spend several days in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), take field trips to coastal fishing communities, meet with rice and aquaculture farmers, and visit cultural sites. They’ll also travel to mangrove forests in Ca Mau Province and tropical forests in Cat Tien National Park (one of the largest areas of lowland tropical forests left in Vietnam), and spend four days in a homestay.

Meet the group and follow along through our daily blogs posts and photos.


Dan Spencer is a faculty member at the University of Montana where he teaches in the Environmental Studies program and contributes to the International Develop Studies and Climate Change Studies minors. Some of his areas of teaching and research interest include ecological ethics, ethical issues in ecological restoration, and globalization, justice, and environmental issues in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Dan&GirlHe first had a chance to 
visit Vietnam and Cambodia while teaching with Semester at Sea in 2011, and he led the 2013, 2014 and 2016 UM Vietnam classes for our four weeks together in Vietnam. He is delighted to be able to return to Vietnam to study the effects of climate change on the Mekong Delta with this year’s group.

Birgensmith_BrielleHello, my name is Brielle Birgensmith. I was born and raised in Whitefish, Montana and found myself traveling roughly 132 miles south to Missoula so that I could continue my education. I am a fourth year student majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in International Development. I am incredibly excited to be apart of this years Vietnam program and study first hand the effects of climate change in the Mekong Delta. I love traveling and seeing the world through the perspectives of local people. I am also beyond stoked to eat delicious Vietnamese food for three weeks straight.

Hello everybody. My name is Casey Brandon, and I am a junior undergraduate here at the University of Montana. I was born and raised in Eugene Oregon (go Ducks!), and came here to Missoula to study Environmental Studies/Climate Change Studies/Sustainable Business back in 2015. Brandon_CaseyI consider myself to be a wise person, however I have never truly left the United States. That is why I could not be more excited for this trip. I feel as if world travel gives a certain perspective to people that simply cannot be achieved elsewhere. To have the opportunity to study the effects of climate change in a beautiful and vulnerable country is so nifty. I am most excited to simply smile and laugh with people who I cannot verbally communicate with, and learn a little bit about an amazing culture that I have never experienced. I very much enjoy the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, here in the States, and I look forward to tossing the disc around in Can Tho as well.

Broom_MaddieMy name is Madeline Broom and I am a sophomore studying Journalism, Environmental Studies, and Climate Change at UM. I grew up Ham Lake, MN where my family and I loved to go sailing on one of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota and was a competitive alpine skier in high school. I moved to Montana because of my love for the outdoors and the mountains. I love doing anything that gets me outside especially hiking, gardening, and skiing. My family officially gave me the travel bug when we spent a year living in the Caribbean aboard our 46 foot sailboat. I am excited about having the opportunity to experience a new culture and learn more about climate change, a topic I am very passionate about.

Chenette_TaylorMy name is Taylor Chenette and I was raised along the Northern California coast and within the Sierra Nevada mountains. After completing an Associate’s degree in Environmental Studies, I transferred to the University of Montana to pursue a double Bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology and Ecosystem Science & Restoration with an aquatic focus. This trip is an exciting opportunity to study climate change in coastal communities with foreign perspectives. I’m eager to make connections and eat my way through Vietnam along the way.

My name is Chott_ElissaElissa Chott, and I am a M.S. Candidate in the Environmental Studies program.  My area of interest is climate change and how ecotourism can play a part in conservation efforts.  My thesis focuses on polar bears and tourism in Churchill, Manitoba.  I wanted to expand my experience and study a vastly different ecosystem facing similar challenges as Churchill, and this program was the perfect opportunity.  I moved to Missoula for work with the Great Bear Foundation several years ago and stayed for graduate school and the huckleberries.


Xin chao, my name is Tom Donahue.  This is my fourth year at the University of Montana where I study Resource Conservation, and I minor in climate change studies and economics.  Born in Billings, MT and cannot see myself living there again.  Donahue_tomI am more of a land person than a water person, but I love to angle, raft, and cliff jump.  On land I enjoy dense forests, disk golf, and taking the side streets.  My goal in life is to help make cities more adapted to climate change by implementing policies or incentive programs that favor resource efficient technologies.  Cities are where most resources are consumed, and changing the attitude of the consumer, I think, is the most effective strategy.  I am most excited to be part of a minority for a month in Vietnam – that is something you likely never experience in Montana.


Falk_AlishaHi, my name is Alisha Falk. I’m from the Bitterroot Valley, south of Missoula, Montana. I’m a Community Health major, minoring Environmental Studies and that I’m very excited to build on my abilities to help people be well, through protecting our environment, which protects us.


My name is Maggie Gammons and I’m a sophomore Environmental Studies major and Music minor at the University of Montana. I’m an avid reader, fiddle player, and lover of all things wild and natural. I grew up in Butte, MT, alongside the largest superfund complex in the nation, which instilled in me a passion for environmental restoration. Gammons_MaggieI am also interested in environmental and social justice, particularly in areas heavily affected by climate change. I am so excited for this trip, which will be a great way for me to learn about all of these issues firsthand. This will be my first study abroad program, and my first time traveling to Asia. I can’t wait to step out of my comfort zone and dive into my experience in Vietnam!

Hello, my name is Harris-Weidner_MingMing Harris-Weidner and I grew up in Missoula Montana with a dog named Shadow and two cats. I love being outdoors, exercising, and eating food. Currently I am a senior at Hellgate High School but I have been taking classes at the University of Montana for two years. I am really interested in environmental science and am excited to learn about the impacts of Climate Change outside a classroom setting. I am looking forward to this amazing learning experience as well as the prospect of meeting new friends.

Hewitt_BenHello there, my name is Ben Hewitt. I’m 20 years old and in my sophomore year at the University of Montana. The first time I traveled to a country in Asia, I had just turned 14 and I went with my dad and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce on a trip through China’s urban provinces as well as some of the nation’s most rural areas. For me, experiencing foreign cultures in lands that are foreign to me is one of, if not, the most gleeful of pleasures I can have in this life. My current studies are in the fields of soil composition (as an environmental studies major) and renewal of nutrients in heavily used areas for agricultural purposes. However, the significance of my going on this trip to Vietnam strikes a much more personal cord in me than just classes and new faces to see and get to know. My grandfather, John Peckham, has played a huge part in my upbringing and he is a veteran of the Vietnam war with American Armed Forces. He lost a lot of his friends in Vietnam, fighting Vietcong forces and after the war was done, he decided to never go back. The conflicting nature of this decision is something that I’m not sure I will ever fully understand but one that I surely want to try my very best to. I have heard through him, how beautiful and striking Vietnam is and I want to be made as aware as possible of the dichotomy between beauty and brutality that is presented in it’s people’s histories as well as those of the grandfather that I love and who has meant so much to me

My name is Emma Kiefer and I’m from Bend, Oregon. I’m in my second year at UM, studying environmental studies, climate change, and international development. Kiefer_EmmaI am excited to be a part of the 2017 Vietnam study abroad program because I love learning about international efforts to mitigate climate change. I believe we can always learn from the people around us. I have never traveled abroad before, so I look forward to experiencing this new culture.


My name is Mattie Lehman and I am a first year graduate student in Environmental Studies. Lehman_MattieOriginally from the corn fields of northern Indiana, I found my way out west to Missoula in August. I am excited to be escaping winter for a few weeks to study in Vietnam! On this trip I get to combine several passions: travel, interacting with different cultures, boating of any kind, and learning about issues of environmental justice.


Hi! I am Tiffany Matthews, I’m 21 years old and was born and raised in Missoula Montana. I am a junior double majoring in Microbiology and Medical Laboratory Sciences. Matthews_TiffanyI am fascinated about disease, and get excited about small organisms. Some things I love are photography, painting, and adventuring outdoors. I’ve never been outside the US before, but I decided this is a wonderful opportunity because I am passionate about climate change, and think it is crucial to understand the effects of climate change and disease prevalence throughout the world. I hope to work closely with these subjects in the future. I think I am most excited to try many new foods and meet new people (but seriously the food).

Nault_DominiqueMy name is Dominique Nault and I am currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. I love traveling and Vietnam is a beautiful country and I am excited to say this is going to be my first abroad experience! I am also excited to learn more about how different parts of the world are dealing with climate change and what are some of the unique efforts they are doing in their area. This class will cover everything that I am interested and hope to further develop my skills in this field and gain a valuable experience.

Stewart_SavannahMy name is Savannah Stewart. I am in my third year of studying Wildlife Biology and Climate Change at UM. I grew up in a small town in the foothills of Northern California. With the incredible Sierra Nevada Mountains as my backyard, I developed a passion for all things wild and beautiful. This love of nature is the root of my interest in climate change and the force behind my desire to find solutions where possible. I hope going to Vietnam will give me the chance to explore climate change in a deeper, more meaningful way than can be portrayed in a textbook or classroom.