Department of Environment and Development

The Department of Environment and Development focuses on efforts to reconcile poverty alleviation with environmental protection in a manner that contributes to peaceful conflict resolution. We emphasize sustained critical analysis in order to formulate solutions that do not just deal with surface issues but address the root causes of environmental problems and underdevelopment. Our approach is grounded in political ecology, an interdisciplinary perspective that highlights the importance of political economic structures and inequality in access to resources as key drivers in environmental conflict and global environmental change. Our teaching, based in principles of peace education, promotes student-centered learning and active participation through collaborative discussion. We take full advantage of our unique location in Costa Rica by including within all of our courses case studies and field visits to explore the many innovative sustainable development projects occurring throughout the country.


André Nijhof (1969) has a masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Twente. He started his working life as a researcher of organisational change in multinational companies like Akzo Nobel, Asito, Shell Pernis, Stegeman Sara Lee and Vredestein. Based on his research he finished his PhD at the University of Twente just before the turn of the century (1999). Next he became a senior consultant at Q-Consult, where he specialized in corporate social responsibility and the implementation of management systems. Andre is former chairman of the Dutch Network on Business Ethics. Since 2007 he has been associate professor at the European Institute for Business Ethics, part of Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

Dr. Cordula Reimann has worked for twenty years as consultant, facilitator, trainer, researcher and lecturer on gender, social change, development and conflict transformation. As practitioner–scholar, Cordula has worked for international and Swiss governmental and non-governmental organisations like Crisis Management Initiative, amnesty international, the Institute for Multi-track Diplomacy in Washington, DC, GIZ and the Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management in Berlin and for nearly ten years at the Swiss peace foundation swisspeace, where she was head of analysis and impact of peacebuilding. Cordula has field experiences mainly in South Asia and the Middle East. With a doctorate in “Peace Studies” on gender, conflict and peacebuilding from the University of Bradford, Cordula has been senior lecturer at different European and Swiss universities and visiting professor at the University of Graz, Austria and the University for Peace, Costa Rica. Her main areas of expertise are gender, conflict sensitivity, development, conflict analysis, transgenerational trauma, loneliness and conflict transformation. Cordula is a trained mediator and has widely published on gender, conflict and conflict transformation theory and practice. In 2011, Cordula set up her own consultancy business called “core. consultancy & training in conflict transformation” ( and later her coaching business called “core change coaching” (

Dr. Gabriela Cuadrado-Quesada is currently working as a researcher at IHE-Delft, Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands. Gabriela completed her PhD at the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia in 2017. Her doctoral research focuses on groundwater governance looking in particular at the design and implementation of legal and policy frameworks in Australia and Costa Rica. Currently she is expanding her research to new jurisdictions such as the Netherlands and India. Gabriela has previously completed a Masters in Water and Coastal Management and Environmental and Infrastructure Planning at the University of Oldenburg (Germany) and at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). She also completed a Masters in Human Rights and Education for Peace at the National University in Costa Rica. She obtained her Law Degree at the University of Costa Rica. Gabriela also worked in the NGO sector in Costa Rica as an environmental lawyer for many years. Her current research interests spring from a dual interest in the socio-legal implications of water crisis on the one hand, and on the other hand, practices that mix elements of community organisation and government responses. She also has experience teaching topics such as water governance, water law, environmental law, international environmental law, water conflicts and management, and water and gender.
Jan Breitling is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environment and Development at University for Peace. He holds a BSc. in Tropical Forestry, from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica, and a MSc. in Environmental Sciences from WUR Wageningen University and Research Center, The Netherlands. His research interests include root causes of deforestation and Global Environmental Change, and Environmental Governance, specifically market based approaches addressing biodiversity conservation and Climate Change.
Kifah Sasa is Sustainable Development Program Officer for the United Nations Development Programme in Costa Rica. Since 2009 he works as senior advisor for the Green Commodities Programme, advising governments and supply chain stakeholders on how to improve the environmental and social performance of commodity supply chains. Kifah has worked for social development and the environment for 17 years in different roles. From setting up and leading NGOs to support community organizations on a voluntary basis; to advising Central American Ministers of Social Integration, Housing and Health on the management of regional projects, as part of the Central American Integration System. For the past decade he has worked for the United Nations Development Programme, managing projects related to biodiversity conservation, marine protected areas, environmental economics; sustainable production of agricultural commodities and democratic dialogue. For the last 5 years he is responsible for UNDPs Sustainable Development portfolio in Costa Rica. He was trained in the United Kingdom (Middlesex, B.A, MA) and The Netherlands (ISS, Post Dip), Costa Rica.
Marco Quesada is currently the country-program Director of Conservation International’s Costa Rica Program. He has an undergraduate (B.Sc., 1996) and a masters (M.Sc., 2001) degree in biology from Universidad de Costa Rica and a Ph.D. from the Department of Marine Affairs of the University of Rhode Island. While his M.Sc. thesis was done on the subject of marine zooplankton ecology, his Ph.D. dissertation was developed on the subject of community participation in fisheries management. Marco has participated in scholar exchanges in Portland State University (US) and the University of La Rochelle (Fra), and has been a professor at U. Peace, Universidad de Costa Rica and conducted research in Costa Rica and Alaska, U.S. He is a member of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Stakeholder Council, the Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group, acts as a national delegate to the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission and is part of Costa Rica’s Commission against illegal fishing, as well as several other public and private advisory bodies.
Melania grew up dreaming of exploring extreme environments. She studied Mechanical Engineering in University of Costa Rica and went on to do an internship at the Johnson Space Center of NASA with astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz for a year. Then she obtained his Master's and Doctorate in Oceanography from the University of California at San Diego and as a researcher at Cornell University and the University of Washington, concentrating on studying the sounds submarines of marine animals and the impact that have been affected by anthropogenic noise, a type of sonic pollution caused by industrial activities. She specializes in areas of the Arctic Ocean that are dramatically affected by climate change. Participating in multiple field expeditions on research ships inspired interest in scientific knowledge for international decision making, a discipline called scientific diplomacy. In 2018 she was chosen for the prestigious Nippon Grant in the Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea of the United Nations, Training in ocean governance and multilateral law. Melania is currently supporting the Costa Rican diplomatic delegations in international negotiation processes for the climate and the ocean. At the beginning of 2019, Melania represented Costa Rica in the Homeward Bound expedition, a female leadership initiative for science that takes place in Antarctica, becoming the second Costa Rican woman to have done science in both polar regions. Homeward Bound is a program that aims to create a network of 1000 scientific women for 10 years and develop their leadership skills, with the aim to raise the voices of women to high-level positions where they can tackle global problems like climate change and sustainable development.

Former Coordinator of the RMSED Programme at the University for Peace, Costa Rica from 2009 to July 2011. She Owns a Msc in Post-war reconstruction, graduated with distinction in 1999, University of York (UK). Bsc in Economics, graduated Cum Laude, 1992, University La Sapienza of Rome (Italy). Technical Diploma in accounting and foreign Languages, graduated in 1986, (Italy).

She has been working since 18 years in developing countries and war-torn societies in Africa (Uganda and Egypt), Asia (Indonesia), Middle East (Jordan, WBG, Lebanon, Yemen), Central America (Guatemala, Costa Rica) and the Balkans (BiH, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia) heading and managing emergency, rehabilitation and development projects for the European Commission (several years), SNV-Dutch Cooperation (1999-2001), CARE Nederland (2001-2008), MOVIMONDO (Consortium of Italian NGOs- 1995-1998).  She was also research fellow of the Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama (INCAP); University of York (UK) for research projects in Indonesia/Aceh and Lebanon/Beiruth; and of the University of Rome.  

Olivia Sylvester, Ph.D., is the Head of the Environment, Development and Peace Department, and assistant professor at the University for Peace. She is also an adjunct professor for Long Island University and teaches in their Global Studies programme. In the last decade, Olivia’s research program has focused on food security, sustainable agriculture, climate change, environmental justice, and gender. Specifically, she works with Indigenous people, women, small-scale farmers, and youth on these topics. Her research is driven by social and environmental justice and she uses relevant methodologies (e.g., Indigenous, feminist) to achieve these goals. Olivia is also member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Society of Ethnobiology, and the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage Project. Being active within these networks allows her to work at the interface of policy and practice.