Two URI professors named Emerging Scholars by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

Brendan Skip Mark and Melva Treviño Peña are among only 15 scholars nationally to earn the honor

KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 22, 2024 – University of Rhode Island faculty members Brendan Skip Mark and Melva Treviño Peña have been named 2024 Emerging Scholars by the national magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

Mark and Treviño Peña were among just 15 scholars from across the nation to be honored last week in the magazine’s annual Emerging Scholars edition

The early-career scholars, 40 years old or younger, are selected by Diverse’s editorial board based on such factors as research history, educational background and publishing and teaching records, along with having demonstrated perseverance and making a strong impact on their institution. The 2024 Emerging Scholars took part in a webinar on Jan. 18.

Brendan Skip Mark, assistant professor of political science and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. (URI Photo/Thupten Tendhar)

“I am humbled and immensely grateful to have been chosen as an emerging scholar,” said Mark, assistant professor of political science and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. “It has helped to reignite my commitment and passion to improving human rights and education in this country. I am thankful to the numerous people at URI whose support has allowed me to do research and advocacy work that I would not have been able to do at another university. I am grateful to those who nominated me for this award.”

“I am incredibly grateful for the recognition,” said Treviño Peña, assistant professor in sustainable agriculture and food systems. “While I received this award for my ability to center inclusivity and equity into all aspects of my work, the service work I do at URI and in the communities I belong to outside the University is also being largely recognized here. This really matters to me because service is often undervalued in academia. But for those of us who pour so much of ourselves into our service, while it can be really tough and draining sometimes, it can also sustain us and be life-giving.”

Brendan Skip Mark

Since joining URI’s political science department in 2018, Mark has had a profound effect locally and globally, from focusing on human rights in a landmark global report to organizing a housing rights conference.

Mark’s “research-based global impact finds parallel depth in his unfailing commitment to inclusive teaching, mentoring, and capacity building locally and on campus,” wrote Jeannette Riley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in recommending Mark for the award. “He is one of our most generous, innovative and diversely accomplished young faculty.”

At URI, Mark, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Binghamton University (SUNY) and a master’s in international affairs from The New School, is co-director of the CIRIGHTS Data Project, the world’s largest human rights dataset. In December, the Global RIghts Project, a research team based at URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, used the database to issue a global report on human rights – the first human rights report card to be released in 40 years.

Mark’s scholarship in human rights has been published in five journals and by two university presses, including Human Rights Quarterly and the Journal of Conflict Resolution. He is the author of the forthcoming book Who Has the Best Human Rights?, to be released by SUNY Press.

Mark’s research interests have also fueled numerous outreach events and workshops, such as the Get Housing Right conference, which featured national and regional experts on housing policy; the Human Rights Measurement Workshop at URI; and international training institutes in Kingian Nonviolence. He has also served as a media expert on numerous issues, including child labor abuses following his contributions to a United Nations expert roundtable at the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

As one of URI’s young BIPOC professors, Mark’s commitment to justice, diversity, equity and inclusion has been evident. He has also worked to offer alternative teaching practices that give students a greater voice while mentoring and employing more than 25 graduate and undergraduate students in numerous research projects. 

“We live in a time when promoting diversity of identity and opinion is contentious, and education and democracy are under attack,” he said. “There remains a significant lack of diversity in higher education, and this award is one way to highlight the fantastic work that minority scholars produce.”

Melva Treviño Peña

Treviño Peña, who holds a master’s degree in geography and environmental resources from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and a Ph.D. in geography from Oregon State University, thanked her colleagues in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences for nominating her. She was nominated for selection as an emerging scholar by Aura Fajardo Grandidge, CELS interim assistant dean for diversity and student success initiatives; Michelle Fontes, assistant vice president of community, equity and diversity; and professors Marta Gomez-Chiarri, Katherine Petersson, and Amelia Moore.   

“Melva is a wonderful example of what a diverse emerging scholar can be,” they wrote in recommending her. “She is passionate about all she does. Her passion has served to inspire many peers and students to reach across disciplines and reassess their teaching, service, research and scholarship in the biological and environmental sciences through the lens of community, equity, and justice.”

As a human geographer, Treviño Peña, who joined URI in 2018, has numerous research interests in the study of how different communities perceive natural environments and identifying how social identity factors—such as gender, race, ethnicity, age—affect their experiences of the environment and environmental change. Her research has included doctoral fieldwork in coastal Ecuador, where she worked with ancestral mangrove users in the Esmeraldas province to analyze societal and economic impacts caused by the loss of mangrove space because of deforestation. She is currently exploring recreational fishing practices in immigrant communities in Rhode Island, looking at such issues as coastal access and food security. 

Her work is known for bringing together researchers with diverse areas of expertise in fisheries, ecology, pathology and food safety, business and marine affairs, and applying sociological methods in researching issues that affect local communities. Her scholarship has been published in such journals as Oceanography, Human Ecology, and Frontiers in Communication.

Treviño Peña’s dedication and passion for her work extends in the classroom, where numerous undergraduate and graduate students seek her out as a mentor. She teaches a variety of topics, from political ecology to sustainability to ethnography, while providing students the tools needed to think about equity and justice in the field. She is also a board member of the New England Faculty of Color Working Group.

“Inclusion, equity, and diversity are integral to all the work I do,” said Treviño Peña. “It not only makes me a better person but also a better scholar and educator. Higher education is changing. While we have seen a lot of progress in recent decades, much work is still needed. There were many who came before me and held the door open so people like me could be here today. So I am trying to do the same for those who come after me.”