meet our staff

Kathleen Merrigan, Food Institute Director

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan is the Director of the Food Institute, Executive Director of Sustainability for GW, and a professor in the Trachtenburg School of Public Policy. Prior to GW, Merrigan was U.S. Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As Deputy Secretary, Merrigan created and led the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative to support local food systems, was among the key architects of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, and made history as the first woman to chair the Ministerial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. She holds a B.A. from Williams College, Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School at UT Austin, and a Ph.D. from MIT.

Ivy Ken, Food Faculty Coordinator

Ivy conducts research on school food programs.  For her, school food is a labor issue that affects the working conditions of food service workers, delivery truck drivers, and farm workers; it is a civil rights issue that influences students’ life chances; and it is a power issue because of the outsized influence of private companies in the production, distribution, and delivery of students’ meals.  Ivy spent six months in 2015 in Chile studying the school feeding program and the small groups of women whose crops make it into the school food commodity chain there.  Here at GW she teaches an Honors course called School Food Policy (HONR 2048) along with Sociology courses centered on inequality.

David Rain, Food Faculty Coordinator

Dr. David Rain is the Food Faculty Coordinator at the Food Institute, an Associate Professor of Geography and International Affairs, and Director of the Environmental Studies program. His interests include health and environment in developing-world cities, population mobility, food systems, geographic information systems, and natural hazards including climate change. He is the author of “Eaters of the Dry Season”, which investigated changes in migration patterns in Niger from an environmental contextual perspective. From 2007-12 he researched place-based drivers of women’s health in Accra, the capital of Ghana in West Africa, on a grant from the National Institutes of Health. David has served as a statistical and geographic technical adviser with the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations. He holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Geography from the Pennsylvania State University.

Bob Orttung, Sustainability Collaborative Research Director

Dr. Robert Orttung is Research Director at the Food Institute and the GW Sustainability Collaborative, as well as an Associate Research Professor of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Bob is the lead PI on two National Science Foundation grants focused on promoting urban sustainability in the Arctic. He is the editor of the forthcoming Sustaining Russia’s Arctic Cities. Among his previous publications are several books and articles examining the interconnection between energy and international relations, including serving as editor with Andreas Wenger and Jeronim Perovic ofEnergy and the Transformation of International Relations: Toward a New Producer–Consumer Framework and Russian Energy Power and Foreign Relations: Implications for conflict and cooperation. He is the president of the Westover Village Civic Association and a member of the board of Field to Table, which runs two farmers markets in Arlington, Virginia. Bob received a B.A. in Russian Studies from Stanford University and both a M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ariel Kagan, Senior Program Associate

Ariel Kagan is the Senior Program Associate for the GW Sustainability Collaborative. She has a background in agriculture and food systems and has previously worked on a French dairy farm and a Canadian fishing wharf. Before coming to GW, Ariel was the DC FoodWorks Coordinator at Middlebury College, a summer program for undergraduates to explore food systems through internships and coursework. She also contributed to the report “Stolen Seafood: the Impact of Pirate Fishing on our Oceans” during her time as an intern at Oceana in 2011. Ariel holds a B.A. in Economics from Mount Holyoke College and a Master’s in Food and Resource Economics from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Kayla Williams, Sustainability Executive Coordinator


Kayla Williams is the Executive Coordinator at the Sustainability Collaborative. She graduated in 2017 from George Washington University with a major in sociology and a minor in creative writing. She hopes to increase access to fresh, affordable, and fair food for all Americans while propelling a culture of symbiotic relationships with farmers, consumers, and the land. At GW, Kayla was an active member of the Food Justice Alliance and GroW Garden. She also managed the GroW Community Garden and worked as a photographer for the Multicultural Student Services Center.

Jordan Carter, Graduate Assistant


Jordan is a Masters’ in Public Health Nutrition student at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, graduating this spring. He is passionate about advancing social justice and food equity to combat health disparities within the food system through community engagement, economic development, and policy creation. Prior to his work as a Fellow, Jordan worked with DC Greens as the Education Coordinator implementing the Market Champion, School Garden Market, and Produce Plus Programs to advance food justice in D.C.. Jordan has also worked with DC Central Kitchen, FoodPrints, and developed a nutrition intervention for 90 fourth grade students in Whittier, California. Jordan will be starting a pathways internship with the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture this spring. He is excited to be working with the Food Institute during his final semester at GW.