Casey Gibson

Casey Gibson, M.S. 2022

 Humanitarian Engineering & Science: Environmental Engineering

Bio: Casey Gibson completed her Master's in HES with an Environmental Engineering focus in August 2022. She joined the Colorado School of Mines in 2020 as part of the inaugural HES master’s cohort and worked as a Research Assistant on the Responsible Mining, Resilient Communities (RMRC) project, backed by an NSF grant (award #1743749). Originally from Arkansas, Casey graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas (U of A) with dual degrees in Biological/Agricultural Engineering and Spanish, along with a minor in Sustainability. Through her studies, she discovered a passion for inclusive engineering and interdisciplinary learning, engaging in diverse international experiences. 

During her undergraduate years, Casey studied in Spain, Costa Rica, Cuba, and India, exploring interests ranging from Latin American literature to tropical ecology. She conducted research on recycled wood ash in Chile for an NSF summer program and analyzed silver nanoparticle contamination in wastewater for her honors thesis. Casey's senior design team designed a carbonator for a local brewery, and she fostered Spanish fluency by traveling, volunteering as a conversation partner for international students, and serving as a grammar, reading, and writing tutor to native Spanish-speaking students at a local middle school. As an ambassador for the U of A College of Engineering, she also designed and facilitated engineering workshops for underrepresented K-12 student groups. Awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, she taught university-level English in Mexico from 2018-2020, conducted research on mangrove carbon capture, and later mentored other Fulbright scholars.

In the HES M.S. program at Colorado School of Mines, Casey pursued her interests in Spanish and Latin America through RMRC, collaborating with Colombian students, researchers, and community members. Her coursework in Science and Technology Studies, Community-Based Research, Environmental Engineering, and Sustainable Community Development expanded her perspective on engineering's societal impact. Supported by an Edna Bailey Sussman Fund Graduate Research Fellowship, Casey interned at MIT's D-Lab, creating a toolkit to assess mining contamination's effects on food sovereignty in Colombia. 

After graduating in 2022, Casey became an Associate Program Officer at the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in Washington, D.C., contributing to projects focused on cultural, ethical, social, and environmental responsibility in engineering. These include consensus reports on extraordinary impacts of engineering on society, and health disparities due to indoor air quality. She has helped organize a workshop on the health equity implications of extreme heat, particularly on marginalized communities, and helps coordinate activities between the U.S. Academies and the Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences in Latin America. The knowledge and connections gained through HES have been indispensable in her current role, especially the first-hand experience with community engagement. 

Project Description: 

Under RMRC, Casey developed her thesis titled “Theorizing the ‘Social’ in Sociotechnical, Community-Based Engineering: Incorporating a Rapid Assessment Procedure in Educational and Field-Based Studies on Colombian Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining” (Gibson, 2022). Through this work, Casey conducted a qualitative assessment of the most prevalent environmental risks perceived by community members living and working at the intersection of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and agriculture in Andes, Antioquia, Colombia. 

When Casey began her journey at Mines, defining her project scope posed a challenge. Despite her desire to collaborate closely with Colombian ASGM communities to shape her project based on their needs and priorities, COVID-19 restrictions prevented her from traveling to Colombia for a year. Acknowledging the significance of community input, she sought practical solutions for this dilemma. During and prior to her internship with MIT D-Lab, Casey observed virtual Community Capacity Building (CCB) trainings facilitated by D-Lab and C-Innova (Bogotá). These sessions relied on WhatsApp group chats to involve community members in co-design activities. Initially centered around ASGM technologies, the trainings shifted focus towards creating home gardens, chicken coops, and fish tanks, addressing COVID-19-induced food insecurity. This shift sparked Casey's initial interest in exploring the connections between ASGM and food production, or the “ag-mining intersection.” 

At the core of Casey's project was the adaptation, teaching, and application of Rapid Assessment Procedure (RAP), a technique she encountered during her Community-Based Research course. Although commonly utilized in fields like public health, RAP is rarely employed in engineering interventions. This approach allows for a rapid collection of nuanced, qualitative data about communities through ethnographic interviews, observations, site visits, and other methods. Executed by a diverse research team involving community members, RAP was enriched by Casey's integration of Humanitarian Engineering concepts like "contextual listening" and proactive community involvement. Before conducting her fieldwork in Andes and concurrent with her D-Lab internship, Casey formulated a RAP workshop, instructing RMRC undergraduate students in the methodology's application. The results of this workshop were documented in the work by Gibson et al. (2023).

With approval to travel to Andes in the fall of 2021, Casey employed RAP with the help of a research team consisting of two students from Mines, two students from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL), and two local women who worked in both farming and mining. Together, the team conducted and documented four focus groups and 32 semi-structured interviews in Spanish with 77 community members. Using a semi-structured approach and an environmental engineering lens, the team quickly realized that unlike other mining areas in Antioquia, food insecurity was not the primary concern in Andes. The region was predominantly agricultural, with a focus on coffee farming and secondary involvement in ASGM.  Most participants already grew much of their own food at home. Employing an inductive approach, the research questions were adapted to align with the community members' lived experiences.

The team pinpointed three primary environmental issues impacting Andes residents, relevant to both agriculture and ASGM: climate change, water quality degradation, and landslides. The qualitative analysis illuminated a paradox of livelihood diversification, where locals embraced various income sources to cope with environmental challenges. However, this diversification, extending to agriculture and ASGM, inadvertently worsened these pressures. This cyclical pattern is hard to break due to the prevailing political, social, and economic limitations revealed in the analysis.

In 2022, Casey carried out a follow-up dissemination trip to Andes. During this trip, she shared her research findings with 21 key participants and gathered feedback on the results. This trip served not only to validate the data but also to maintain the partnership's momentum and foster trust. In addition, Casey has presented her research at four academic conferences, authored two conference articles, given multiple invited talks, and written three peer-reviewed articles (one published, two in the final stages of preparation) for audiences in fields like systems engineering, sociohydrology, engineering education, and science and technology studies. Her goal is to encourage students, researchers, institutional partners, and community members associated with the RMRC project to collaborate further with the Andes community, building upon the existing partnership and research achievements