2017 GPEIG Gill-Chin Lim Best Dissertation Award
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2017 Winner: Thomas Douthat

The GPEIG Gill-Chin Lim Best Dissertation Award is funded annually by the Consortium of Development Studies (CODS), which was founded by Dr. Gill-Chin Lim in 1982. This award recognizes superior scholarship in a doctoral dissertation completed by a student enrolled in an ACSP-member school.

The winner for the 2017 GPEIG Gill-Chin Lim Best Dissertation is Thomas Douthat for his dissertation titled “Adaptive Efficiency in Coffee Clusters: Resilience through Agglomeration, Global Value Chains, Social Networks, and Institutions.”

The award committee had this to say about Thomas’ dissertation, “Among the many excellent applications we received this year, his study of Coffee Cooperatives in Costa Rica and Mexico impressed us particularly because of his creative and very effective use of mixed methods, extensive fieldwork, insightful in-depth analysis of ecological and economic resiliency, and consideration of economic structures and agglomerations, as well as social and knowledge-sharing networks.”

Thomas is a planning, transportation, and economic geography scholar with expertise in Geographic Information Systems, and research design for spatial problems. He holds a PhD in City and Regional Planning from Georgia Tech, and is currently a Research Engineer with the Garrow Transportation Demand Modeling Lab at Georgia Tech’s School of Civil Engineering. He has also been an instructor at Georgia Tech and University of West Florida, teaching planning and development courses.

In his current position, Thomas uses GIS and statistical modeling to evaluate the performance of rural transit systems to provide greater mobility options to vulnerable populations, and to measure the economic benefits of transit systems. This includes questions of access to health care, the role of transit in trending urban areas, and the potential incorporation of new technologies.

Thomas’ dissertation research focused on the resilience and governance of industrial clusters. He focused on the emergence and sustainability of industries at the regional level, and how policy makers can create institutional environments to foster long-term performance, equity, and sustainability. This work included modeling land use change, social network analysis, actor interviews, and statistical modeling.

Prior to entering academia, Thomas completed a JD at the University of Puerto Rico, and worked as a Judicial Clerk for the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. He also has extensive experience in Latin America, and is a past Fulbright scholar.

Q: How did you feel when you learned you won?
A: It was a great honor, especially after I learned more about the important legacy of Dr. Gill-Chin Lim.

Q: Who do you want to thank, if anyone?
A: Without the support of my wife and my mother, I would have never finished. But principally, would like to thank all of the coffee farmers, and people engaged in the industry that graciously shared their time with me. Coffee is a luxury for the consumer, and a hard (but crucial) way of life for many rural communities in Mexico and Costa Rica. It is an inherently international industry, that both reflects past colonial and social inequities (especially in terms of equity for small holder and indigenous farmers), and also a space of opportunity for international solidarity and collaboration.

Q: What inspired you about this project?
A: I was interested in the concept of resilience and land use paradigms, and helping my wife with her field work as an ecologist, I began to become interested in the crucial roles cooperatives played in certain Costa Rican communities. They were both business interests, community hubs, and forums for knowledge development and collaboration. Having the work of Castells in my head, I became interested in how the institutions that frame social networks at the community level would give certain communities greater capacity to adapt in global value chains.

Q: What's next?

A: I am currently working on issues of transportation equity, especially rural transit in the United States, but I hope to continue my work with coffee and the importance of pro-social institutional structures in shaping the capacity for people to express agency and thrive within global processes. 

Click here for more information on the Gill Chin Lim Award.


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