Photo credit: UAHS, BioCommunications, Kris Hanning
By Elizabeth Labiner
Before becoming an assistant professor in the U of A’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and before earning his PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida, Dr. José R. Soto earned both his B.A. in Economics (2006) and his M.S. in Agricultural and Resource Economics (2008) as a first-generation college student at the U of A.
Soto says that one of the most important aspects of his education was learning to understand and apply the scientific method. “Great mentorship also helped me find my particular field of interest,” Soto adds. His undergraduate interest in economics and natural resources led to his graduate work in resource economics as related to agriculture and food. Now, as a researcher and lecturer in SNRE, Soto specializes in coupled natural-human systems, analyzing the economic aspects of the interactions between humans and nature. “In the simplest terms, I think of a Venn diagram: the two circles that overlap are humans and nature. That intersection is where I currently reside in my job,” he explains. “I do modeling of coupled natural-human systems at different spatial and temporal scales for both fundamental insight and practical real-world applications. I focus on ecosystem services, which are embedded in complex, social-ecological systems (SES).”
During his time in Florida, Soto felt strongly that returning to Arizona would be ideal for him. Getting hired to do his particular work at his top-choice institution, however, was no easy task. “There was an extraordinarily competitive interview process,” he recalls. The academic job search was tough, he acknowledges, but felt well worth the effort when he got the position.
He plans to continue developing and expanding his research program in SNRE, making important contributions to his field and aiding the growing understanding of the relationship between humans, their social systems and structures, and the natural world. In addition to his exciting scholarly work, Soto looks forward to drawing on his own experiences to mentor other first-generation college students and engage with the U of A’s work as an Hispanic-Serving Institution.