Current Research Areas: civic infrastructures; communities of practice; land-based learning; Indigenous sovereignty; settler colonialism; ethnobotany
Aja finds joy in building reciprocal relationships between people and land. She was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the department of History, Anthropology, Science, Technology & Society (HASTS). Her dissertation research focuses on restoration movements of aina momona (“lands that are rich, plentiful, and abundant”) in Hawaii. She works with multiethnic, Indigenous-led farm and garden communities who practice community stewardship over the lands they drink, eat and live on. Her work explores how urban planners in Honolulu are drawing on Native Hawaiian knowledge for climate change resilience and environmental justice transitions in the twenty-first century. Through ethnographic and archival research, she investigates how different environmental activists translate the value of their work to government, philanthropists, and private donors who invest in ancestral knowledge systems and technologies.
Outside of MIT, Aja is a C3 Fellow at Prime Coalition, an impact investing nonprofit where she researches the capital gaps in science and engineering innovation. Her prior experience ranges from interning at a multinational engineering and design firm to grass-roots organizing within communities and educational institutions. Previously, she was a consultant for multi-use infrastructure and greenway projects, such as a Hawaii-based agrivoltaics farm, as well as river beautification projects carried out by local youth in Providence, Rhode Island. She holds a B.A. in Science, Technology & Society from Brown University. Her research has been supported by the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation (2021-2022), Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Garden Club of America Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden History and Design (2020), and the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women’s Steinhauss/Zisson Grant (2018). In her unstructured time, she savors community farming and surfing.