Vallury joins Odum as assistant professor, River Basin Center as co-director

Cheryth Youngmann

Contact: [email protected]

Sechindra Vallury, Rebecca Shelton and their dog Junebug at Lava Lake in the Gallatin Canyon, Montana, courtesy of a friendly stranger.

Sechindra Vallury, a researcher in natural resource management and policy with a focus on how institutions can shape water governance and equity outcomes, didn’t always know he wanted to be a social scientist.

He completed his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad, India. In his early career, he worked as a business consultant in supply chain management, with clientele on the Fortune 500 list. 

“My work really got me interested in land-use and water policies of South Asian countries,” said Vallury. “I then decided to do my master’s in natural resource management to understand how these different policies could affect water governance.” He eventually decided on the Environmental Studies and Resource Management program, with a concentration in economics, at the TERI School of Advanced Studies in New Delhi, India. 

It was his PhD program that brought him to the states—and narrowed his focus to water institutions and policy. He pursued that track at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability from 2014 to 2019, with professors Joshua K. Abbott and John M. Anderies as his advisors. His research took an interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on institutional economics; he focused on the sources of environmental inequality and the distributional consequences of water policy. 

Since then, he’s studied and published about water and land resource management, mostly in southern India and the western U.S., as a postdoctoral associate at Duke University, and more recently at the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation at University of Montana.

Despite the seemingly disparate geographic and topical focuses of Vallury’s research, it’s strongly conceptually linked.

“Underlying my work is this view that I take of the world: most significant environmental conflicts and distributional concerns that we face today are caused by cooperation or coordination dilemmas,” explained Vallury. This theoretical lens offers cohesion to his research, whether he’s looking at rangeland conservation in the American West or water resource management in South Asia and Africa. “Through application of political-economic theory and diverse quantitative methods, I endeavor to provide practical solutions to address these dilemmas and improve environmental and climate change adaptation policies across communities at multiple levels of decision-making.”

Vallury has worked with a spectrum of scientists during and since his PhD, and that interdisciplinary bent is exactly what drew him to Athens.

On August 1, Vallury joined Odum School of Ecology as an assistant professor, and the River Basin Center as its new director of policy, a change he’s enthusiastic about.

“I think what interested me was the fact that this is a policy position in an ecology school, with a specific emphasis on water governance research. The RBC has a rich history of connecting interdisciplinary water-related research at UGA with management and policy and I am excited to continue and enrich that legacy,” said Vallury, whose graduate experiences left him comfortable in highly interdisciplinary and collaborative spaces. “There is a need for collaborations across disciplines in order to fully understand and address the social-ecological problems that we face today.”

Vallury isn’t alone in anticipating meaningful collaboration.

“The Odum School of Ecology is delighted to welcome Dr. Vallury to UGA,” said Intrim Dean Sonia Altizer. “As a leading expert on land and water resource management, he brings unique and important research and teaching expertise, with great relevance for supporting both environmental sustainability and human well-being.”

When not writing, teaching or conducting research, Vallury has plenty to keep him busy. Though the pace of academia can be frenetic, he loves building computers in his free time.

His partner Rebecca Shelton balances a role as director of policy at a nonprofit in eastern Kentucky with completing her PhD, but the two try to find time to get outside. “We love to find new hikes and be in the wilderness,” he said.

They share two dogs, June and Mabel, who he describes as “a couple of goofballs.”

After several moves for school and work, including stints of long distance, the couple is looking forward to settling into Athens.

And beyond that, Vallury said he’s eager to join the Odum and RBC community.

“I’m very excited about joining the RBC and the Odum school. I believe this position provides a fantastic opportunity for me to collaborate with other biophysical and social scientists at UGA to help address water problems efficiently and equitably both regionally and globally,” said Vallury.