Rafe Brown is inaugural recipient of KUIA Advisory Board International Research Award

Thu, 11/09/2023


Christine Metz Howard

Rafe Brown, KU professor and curator, gives a presentation in the Philippines.

LAWRENCE — As a leader in equitable and collaborative international research and education, Rafe Brown, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, is the inaugural recipient of the KU International Affairs Advisory Board International Research Award.

Rafe Brown, KU professor and curator, holding a snake.

The award recognizes faculty members who provide outstanding leadership in international education through their research and discovery efforts. Brown will accept the award and give a talk on his research from 3 to 5 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Kansas Union’s Big 12 Room. The public is invited to attend the presentation and reception to follow.

The presentation will be livestreamed, and online participants will need to register prior to the event.

Brown, curator-in-charge of the Herpetology Division of the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, largely conducts research in the Philippines, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, but he has collaborated on biodiversity research in India, northern Melanesia, the tropical Americas and central Africa.

By fostering equitable and mutually beneficial international research collaborations, Brown has “set a high bar” in international education, according to a nomination letter written by Biodiversity Institute faculty Jorge Soberón and A. Townsend Peterson and Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology chair Lena Hileman.

“This model of ‘full partnership’ in international education represents the future of science, particularly in biodiversity science,” they wrote.

For more than two decades, Brown has studied the evolution, distribution, dispersal and diversity of land vertebrates in archipelagos of the Philippines, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. As part of that work, Brown has led field expeditions to the Philippines, which have included KU undergraduate and graduate students and an equal number of Filipino students.

His decades-long record of taking KU students abroad to participate in international field research has provided “mind-broadening experiences with a very different set of people cultures and landscapes,” noted members of the Biodiversity Institute and ecology & evolutionary biology department.

Meanwhile much of Brown’s teaching, mentorship and instruction to Filipino students is done in fluent Tagalog, the official language of the country, which nominators noted is a testament to his dedication to international education.

Brown has mentored an entire generation of Filipino students in herpetology and biodiversity conversation, according to a nomination letter from Phillip Alviola, associate professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Prior to Brown’s arrival to the Philippines, herpetology was an almost unknown field in the country.

“We are now seeing budding and established herpetologists and wildlife biologists in many parts of the Philippines, and they were at some point mentored by Rafe,” Alviola wrote.

Brown has mentored 17 doctoral students, six postdoctoral researchers and 39 undergraduate students. Many of these have been international students from around the world.

Among Brown’s mentees is Marites Sanguila, who came to the Biodiversity Institute as a visiting doctoral student in 2009 and went on to establish an institute dedicated to biodiversity science at Father Saturnino Urios University.

“That major experience is transformative for a Filipino student like me,” Marites Sanguila wrote in a nomination letter. “It armed me with an excellent knowledge of Philippine amphibians and reptiles, and social skills to form networks for equitable collaborations.”

In 2019, Brown co-developed a three-week course on biodiversity science, which was funded by the Philippine government and brought Brown and seven members of his lab to teach at Sanguila’s institute. The course paired KU and Filipino students on research projects, provided in-person educational opportunities to 40 undergraduates at Urios and was livestreamed to hundreds of participants throughout the country.

Most recently, Brown has collaborated with Partido State University and Ateneo de Naga University to study the biodiversity along a rare, continuously forested habitat in the Caramoan Peninsula. The area extends from the volcanic peak of Mount Isarog through the pristine coastal forests of Caramoan National Park to the Pacific Ocean’s reefs, sea grasses and small islands.

Michael Clores, dean at Partido State University, noted an overarching goal of the project is to increase appreciation of Philippine biodiversity and promote conservation.

“We joined the programs (Brown) conceived and initiated because we have witnessed how he is dedicated to the understanding and sustainable management of Philippine terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity,” Clores wrote in his nomination letter.

He went on to note that as the Philippines leading herpetologist, Brown has “contributed a lot to our quest to understand biodiversity.”

Michael Cuesta, director of the Social Science Research Center at ADNU, noted the project provided opportunities for faculty and students to engage in field-based research and publish their work in journals, paved the way for the discovery of previously unknown herpetofaunal species and improved local biodiversity research.

“Through Dr. Brown’s companionship and guidance, ADNU was able to strengthen and enhance its role in local biodiversity research, advocacy and governance by bridging working relationships with other higher education institutions, local government units, natural resources management and protection agencies, and with the people in small and remote communities in the country,” Cuesta wrote.

Charles Bankart, senior internationalization officer, noted that Brown’s international research and education bring into focus the importance of internationalization at KU. 

“His work as a scholar and the global perspective he brings to his research and teaching embody KU’s vision as an exceptional learning community that lifts each member and advances society,” Bankart said.

Financially supported by the KUIA Advisory Board, the international research award comes with a $1,000 stipend.

Top image: Rafe Brown making a presentation to youths in the Philippines.

Right image: Rafe Brown, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, is the inaugural recipient of the KU International Affairs Advisory Board International Research Award.

Thu, 11/09/2023


Christine Metz Howard

Media Contacts

Christine Metz Howard

International Affairs