The Evolution of Athlete to Researcher: An Introduction to Erika Harvey

Erika Harvey

Erika Harvey

Economic Empowerment Analyst

When I started the journey that led me to Sierra Business Council, I was an athlete with one goal in mind — swimming fast. 

I was recruited to swim Division 1 at San Jose State University, and while I had academic interests, there were so many degree options it was overwhelming. Luckily, I had swimming to help keep me grounded. 

I grew up climbing on granite slabs at Donner Summit, and the rock formations fascinated me. Everywhere I went in the mountains, I found myself mesmerized by the colors, textures, and stratigraphy lines that painted the landscapes. Having grown up in Northern California in an outdoors family, the concept of conservation was ingrained very early. “Respect the playground; if you want the beautiful places you love to remain intact, then do your part.” At that point in my life, I knew I wanted to do something that allowed me to be outside and in the field solving problems (or something to that extent). Naturally, I began my academic career pursuing a degree in geology.

Sometime during my sophomore year, after taking a few social science courses, I realized that I also was starting to fall in love with anthropology. From there, I stumbled into archaeology and that drove me deep into the realm of studying people, things, and how people interacted with those things in their environments. As fascinating as archaeology was (and still is), I still loved rocks. So while I majored in anthropology, I also minored in geology, with the hope that future me would figure out how to blend the two fields. The qualitative and the quantitative.  

Eventually continuing on to graduate school, my goal was to find a research project that embodied both my passions for archaeology and geology. I found geoarchaeology. To make a long story short, my graduate research involved storytelling of landscapes and investigating how prehistoric people interacted with those landscapes over time. What most people don’t know about archaeology, is that it’s not always about finding a lost treasure and fighting the Nazis with Sean Connery (as fun as that sounds). It’s not even always about excavating a prehistoric tool and studying how it might have been used.

Archaeology is more about trying to understand how that tool might have been made. Where did the materials used to make it come from? If it was traded from another community, how far did people travel to acquire it? What was traded in return? If it was made, how were the materials acquired and transported? Were the materials mined, dug up, found? What tools were used to acquire it? How did the people come to learn this technology? The questions never end. Archaeology is about understanding the entanglement of a community’s way of life and the evolution of its relationship to a location(s). My research specifically focused on using spatial analysis, site formation processes, and a deeper understanding of pedogenic processes/sediment analysis to begin to understand how the site became an archaeological site in the first place. Some questions leading into the project included, why did these people leave? Was there a volcanic eruption that forced them to run? Did climate change play a role, and influence their way of life? All of these questions could be answered through evidence left in the landscape. 

Fast forward to Fall 2020. After a frustrating year of unpredictable change that affected every corner of the world, I had an opportunity that allowed me to move to Truckee (the ultimate end game). I then discovered Sierra Business Council, and after unearthing what the organization does more specifically, it instantly felt like it was meant to be. 

One of the reasons I am so interested in SBC is how we approach invoking change in the Sierra. Our projects are geared toward creating a more diverse, efficient, and sustainable environment where communities can thrive. We are not only passionate about generating opportunities for small businesses in rural communities, but also strengthening a foundation for sustainability that keeps environmental integrity in mind. The project I am currently working on, Sierra Nevada Regional Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, is aligned with my past research interests because our goal is to not only focus on the environmental risks of climate change in the Sierra, but also investigate how these risks might influence rural communities. By putting solutions forward in these projects, we paint a pathway for communal adaptability in the Sierra. 

I very much look forward to being a part of the idealism that pioneers and demonstrates innovative solutions to strengthen communities. The Vulnerability Assessment is just one project at SBC that embodies both the ideologies that I grew up on and my academic passions for studying how people interact with landscapes in a mutually beneficial way.

Read More Recent Blogs

Train over donner summit, forested landscape with some snow

Social Cost of Carbon

There is a powerful tool to help evaluate decisions that impact greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an estimate of the cost associated with emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Photo of backpackers in a feild with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance

Get to Know Our New CivicSpark Fellow

Working on projects that directly decrease emissions makes climate change feel less scary and more manageable. So much needs to be done, but actually getting to work feels incredible.

Town of Mammoth Lakes in the summer with homes in the foreground and mountains in the background

Program Has Launched in 16 Sierra Counties

This grant program will provide $18.6 million statewide for free, energy-efficient refrigeration units in low-income or low-access areas throughout the state.

More by this author

Image of Jan 2022 snow storm with cars buried in driveway and dog

From Climate Change to Climate Emergency

Over the last few years, climate scientists have noticed that the extreme events originally projected for future decades are happening now. These recent extreme events have changed language in the field from climate change to climate emergency, and the difference isn’t just semantics—it is the rate and volume at which they occur.

Photo of smoke in downtown placerille from Caldor fire, 2021

How has SBC responded to the Sierra’s greatest challenge?

Wildfire is the apex issue in our region, impacting the environment, economies, and public health of the Sierra. The severity of this problem is addressed by each of SBC’s three focus areas—our climate action, regional advocacy, and economic empowerment teams are each working on solutions that tackle the many challenges presented by severe wildfires. 

Eastern Sierra backpacking trip alpenglow, Goddard glacier

A Walk Through the Sierra

This past January, I got a text from my trail family asking if I was interested in going on a backpacking trip for 12 days in the Southern Sierra in August. Without hesitation, I said yes. Little did I know how this trip would impact my life, let alone bring perspective to the Sierra Nevada Climate Vulnerability Assessment project I had just joined.