Sandra Nichols, Ph.D.   

Visiting Scholar, Migration & Sustainable Development, Department of Geography,                                      University of California, Berkeley.
Research Associate, Richard Mines Consulting.

e-mail: snichols08 at gmail dot com

Sandra is a Cultural Geographer who specializes in Mexican migration.  Fluent in Spanish, she has extensive experience interviewing farmworkers and their families, in both California and Mexico.  Since the mid-1990s she has been conducting research, writing about, and working with Mexican transnational communities.  

Her in-depth study of one of these transnational communities is titled  "Saints, Peaches and Wine: Mexican migrants and the transformation of Los Haro, Zacatecas and Napa, California."   The Spanish language version was  published in Mexico and in 2006 was honored at the annual book fair at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.  

While working for the California Institute for Rural Studies in Davis, she conducted action-oriented research on access to healthcare and education for agricultural workers in Salinas and San Luis Obispo counties; civic participation by Mexican immigrants in the San Joaquin Valley; and led the Napa element of the Agricultural Workers Health Study, a large multi-region study funded by the The California Endowment.  

In 2005, in collaboration with Rick Mines, she completed a study for the Rockefeller Foundation on the Mexican ‘nostalgia market,’ analyzing its potential to promote development in migrant-dependent communities. She continues to study the transfer of agricultural innovations by Mexican farmworkers to their communities of origin in Mexico, and to work with migrant hometown organizations to promote sustainable agriculture and better opportunities for the next generation. 

Her latest research, again in collaboration with Rick Mines, is The Indigenous Farmworker Study.  It focuses on the newest group of immigrants working in California agriculture: people who come from indigenous communities in southern Mexico, bringing with them languages and customs that date from before the time of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. A report detailing the numerous indigenous linguistic groups, their communities of origin in Oaxaca and other Mexican states, along with an analysis of their living and working conditions in California, was released in 2010.  The research findings, together with interactive maps, videos and photographs are available at

Prior to her current work, Sandra spent 22 years producing documentary films for Public Television, including the NOVA series.  That work took her to Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as to her own back yard in California’s Central Valley.  Her films have won numerous awards including the prestigious DuPont-Columbia Award for Broadcast Journalism and the Peabody Award.  Many of her films have been broadcast in Europe and elsewhere and continue to be used around the world in education and training.  Always she has sought to put a human face on the complex interaction of culture, environment and economic development.   

Sandra grew up in Lima, Peru.  She holds a BA in Anthropology, and an MA in Communication, both from Stanford.  Following her career in documentary films, she returned to graduate school and in 2002 earned a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley.

When not in California or Mexico she likes to be hiking in Spain.  In 2005 she walked 500 miles from the Pyrenees to Santiago Compostela, along the medieval pilgrimage route  known as the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James.  In 2007 she walked 300 miles north from Sevilla following the ancient Roman road known as the Via de la Plata, through the towns, forests, fields and vineyards of Andalucia and Extremadura.  

Why Geography?

At a time when evidence accumulates that the life support systems of our planet are at risk of collapse, continuing our present behavior is no longer an option. Yet how can humans begin to fashion new kinds of relationships with nature and with each other in order to reverse the present course?   We have no roadmaps for this work; we will have to make it up as we go.  Geography, at its best, is an integrative and holistic discipline, and as such offers us a way to think about the many pieces of this great challenge and, most crucially, how they fit together.