Rachel Schurman In Memoriam

(June 9, 1958 – March 17, 2024)

Rachel Schurman was the first woman to serve on the core faculty of the Energy and Resources Group. She came to Berkeley as a Ciriacy-Wantrup postdoctoral fellow in 1993 and joined the faculty the next year as an assistant professor. Her appointment was split between the Energy and Resources Group and the Department of Sociology. She taught environmental sociology with a development perspective in courses jointly offered between ERG and Sociology and co-taught social science methods in ERG.  In late 1998, Rachel and her husband, Michael Goldman, were both offered professorships at the University of Illinois, an offer Berkeley failed to match, and then several years later they moved to the University of Minnesota. Though her five years at Berkeley were far too brief, she had a memorable impact on the lives of her students while calmly deepening and expanding the ERG faculty‘s conception of their program.

Professor Schurman earned her undergraduate and Master of Science degrees in economics. She earned her PhD in sociology and rural sociology from the University of Wisconsin in 1993. Her PhD research documented how neoliberal economic policies affected the fishing industry in southern Chile. At Berkeley, Professor Schurman along with Professors Norgaard and Rochlin developed ERG’s first social science methods course. Rachel’s advice was in extremely high demand because of the high quality of her guidance. She chaired the PhD research committees of Dennis Takahashi Kelso on the risks of ocean salmon farming and of W. Scott Prudham on the old growth timber crisis in the Pacific Northwestern US. She also served on the PhD committees of William Boyd, Navroz Dubash, Dara O’Rourke, and Thomas Sikor, and also worked with many ERG masters students. 

Here are some personal reflections of students and colleagues in ERG:

She was such a warm and good person. She gave so much to all of us and made us better—as students, scholars, and human beings. -William Boyd

This tragic news is really, really sad. I remember Rachel as just an incredibly positive person who always had a big smile and a word of encouragement. She was a careful and empathetic reader who helped her students work from messy first drafts to writing that tried to make a difference. She touched so many people positively, and really changed ERG for the better.  -Dara O’Rourke

Many ERG students, realizing that people were the problem, had been transiting into the social sciences without adequate core faculty support. Rachel Schurman filled that void miraculously quickly, extremely well, and with a calming, gracious warm presence. Faculty and students learned with and through her. I miss her. -Richard Norgaard

I was so saddened to learn of Rachel’s passing. She was a wonderful and kind resource and touchstone for my own transition to the Energy and Resources Group. Not only did she have a great deal of wisdom to share about how best to thrive in an interdisciplinary world, but also how to support students as they navigate their own transitions. Her approach of strength and flexibility in one’s core areas, and substantive inquiry in fields near and seemingly far, was of great value, and comfort. She will be missed both in terms of her work and her caring approach to academia and social inquiry.  Rest in power, Rachel. -Daniel Kammen

It is indeed so very sad, and we have lost an incredible person. I know I owe her a great deal and though I tried to thank her, it never seemed enoughRachel was a mentor to me but also a good friend. My debt to her is huge and one I could never repay. I have tried to draw from the example she set in my own professional life, particularly in working with graduate students, though I could never match her standard. She was a beacon. -Scott Prudham

Rachel helped ERG and the campus pave the way for support and success for tenure-track faculty with shared appointments. I am grateful for her patience and effort as we worked on how best to craft the support for her and the many faculty who followed in her footsteps. She was a wonderful colleague and her memory stays with us. -Cathy Koshland

Rachel Schurman was my advisor when I was an ERG doctoral student, and my experience with her was exceptional on so many levels. If I had to choose a single word, though, to describe the richness of her approach, it would be “generous”. Rachel brought great personal warmth and intellectual depth to her work; and she modeled collegial scholarly exploration. Rachel’s contributions– to me and to all of us in the ERG community — are rare and lasting gifts. I continue to rely on those lessons for both learning and living. -Dennis Takahashi-Kelso

Here is the list of the dissertation committees Rachel served on while at Berkeley

(taken from her CV):

W. Scott Prudham, Ph.D. adviser, “Knock on Wood: Nature and the Fictitious Commodity in

Oregon’s Douglas-fir Region,” Energy and Resources Group (Ph.D. 1999)

Dennis Takahashi Kelso, Ph.D. adviser, “Aquarian Transitions: Technological Change,

Environmental Uncertainty, and Salmon Production on North America’s Pacific Coast,”

Energy and Resources Group (Ph.D. 1999)

William Boyd, Ph.D. committee, “New South, New Nature: A Study of Regional

Industrialization,” UC-Berkeley, Energy and Resources Group. (Ph.D. 2002)

Paul Sabin, Ph.D. committee, “Petroleum Polity: Law and Politics in the California Oil Economy, 1900-1940,” UC-Berkeley, Dept. of History (Ph.D. 2000)

Julie Guthman, Ph.D. committee, “Agrarian Dreams? The Paradox of Organic Farming in

California,” UC-Berkeley, Dept of Sociology (Ph.D. 2000)

Dara O’Rourke, Ph.D. committee, “Community Driven Regulation: Environmental Conflicts and Civil Society in Post-Socialist Vietnam,” Univ. of California-Berkeley, Energy and

Resources Group (Ph.D. 1999)

Thomas Sikor, Ph.D. committee, “The Political Economy of Decollectivization: A Study of

Differentiation in and Among Black Thai Villages of Northern Vietnam,” UC-Berkeley,

Energy and Resources Group (Ph.D. 1999)

Navroz Dubash, Ph.D. committee, “The Agrarian Question and the Institutionalization of

Groundwater Exchange in Gujarat, India,” UC-Berkeley, Energy and Resources Group

(Ph.D. 1999)

MA Committees (underlined students were in ERG):

Joaquin Contreras, Rita Frerichs, Ann Larson, Christopher Greacen, Malena

Samaniego, David Tecklin, Macarena Gomez-Barris, Simone Pulver, Lesley Barnhorn

Here is a link to her obituary from the Sociology Department, University of Minnesota:


For those wishing to honor Rachel’s memory, she asked that donations be made to:

 Middle East Children’s Alliance – Meca for Peace