Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award Alumni Network 

Sarah Anderson (2014)

SarahAndersonHow the program impacted me:  Through the ESA GSPA award, I learned a lot about the federal budget, how to talk to congressional policy-makers, and what my congressional offices are like.  It was an interesting mental exercise to tie the work I do every day to something a congressperson or staffer would care about, like a line in the federal budget; it gave me an appreciation for the context of my research in a broader national and societal setting.

What I’m up to now: I am continuing to work on my PhD studying atmospheric deposition of nitrogen in the northwestern United States.

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Matt Berg (2013)

mattBergHow the program impacted me:  The GSPA program gave me tremendous insight into the development of science policy and helped me hone the skills necessary to make a lasting impact in this arena. I built relationships on Capitol Hill that I still rely on to bring forward a variety of issues to my elected representatives.

What I'm up to now: I completed my PhD in May 2014 and currently am trying to decide on my next steps.

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Drew Bingham (2014)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow the program impacted me:  I'd say there were two main ways the program impacted me.  The first was that it inspired me to become more engaged with my local representatives.  From afar, it's easy to become cynical and think that politicians only care about special interests.  But I realized they do pay attention to their constituents and unless we make our voices heard, they will only hear from one side of an issue.  The second impact was just to reinforce my desire to look for a job when I graduate that works on that interface of science and policy to facilitate better management decisions.

What I’m up to now: I'm still with the National Park Service and planning to graduate in December from CSU, at which point I'll be looking to transition to a job in ecology / policy.

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Sydney Blankers (2015)

BlankersHow the program impacted me:  The GSPA provided me with an invaluable glimpse into the federal budget and the process of advocating for change on the Hill. I am especially grateful for the chance to connect with other award winners, as well as many insightful professionals; adding such knowledgeable and motivating individuals to my professional network is priceless. 

What I'm up to now: After receiving my Master's degree in urban and environmental planning, I joined a sustainability-oriented planning and architecture firm in Chicago. There, I focus on incorporating science and research into sustainable urban design and policy strategies. 

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Cleo Chou (2015)

Cleo_Chou_headshotHow the program impacted me: I am extremely thankful to ESA for the GSPA program because it demonstrated to me the numerous and varied ways that ecologists can have a role in policy, for which I previously had few role models or tangible examples. It was inspirational to hear the stories of several Ph.D. ecologists who came from academic backgrounds, and learn about how they transitioned to science policy careers in different governmental agencies. In addition, it was invaluable to participate in the Congressional Visits, as it gave me a better understanding of how Congressional members interact with and serve constituents, as well as how governmental funding is allocated. With the knowledge I gained through the GSPA program, I feel much better prepared to create a career path for myself that is at the interface of science and policy.

What I'm up to now: I am working on finishing my Ph.D. on nutrient and carbon cycling in tropical rainforests, and applying to positions that will allow me to continue developing as scientist while also expanding on my experiences in policy.

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Lindsey Deel (2013)

Lindsey Deel for GSPA websiteHow the program impacted me:  The GSPA gave me insight into what goes on beyond science in the world of academia.  It has given me a whole new perspective on defining the goals and implications of the work I do.

What I'm up to now: I'm working on finishing my PhD in Geography at West Virginia University.

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Alexis Erwin (2010)

GSPA website ALEXISHow the program impacted me: I'm grateful to the GSPA program for launching my involvement in other ESA policy activities. I was elected Student Liaison to the Policy Section, helped develop An Ecologist's Guidebook for Policy Engagement, co-organized two Symposia about the science-policy interface at our Annual Meeting, and was appointed to a three-year term on the Public Affairs Committee.

What I'm up to now: After completing a dissertation on plant-insect interactions at Cornell, I spent a stint at the International Rice Research Institute. I served as a CCST Fellow at the California Senate Energy Committee and am co-developing a graduate curriculum in translational ecology with colleagues at SESYNC. In September, I began work on sustainable development and food security as an AAAS Fellow at USAID's Africa Bureau.

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Dan Evans (2011)

GSPA website DanHow the program impacted me: It strengthened my ability to communicate that scientific research is vital to maintaining social and economic progress. It helped me to understand how all of us constituents can better influence Members of Congress. And it permitted me to meet new people at the Ecological Society of America who remain friends and professional colleagues.

What I'm doing now: I'm an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at US AID.

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Natalie Hambalek (2015)

NatalieHambalekHow the program impacted me: The ESA Graduate Student Policy Award allowed me to gain an invaluable first hand experience communicating with Members of Congress in Washington DC. The experience helped to strengthen my science communication skills, enabled me to build a network of colleagues, and ultimately solidified my desire to work at the interface of science and policy upon completion of my degree.

What I'm doing now: Currently, I am working on my PhD in Integrative Biology at Oregon State University studying the impacts of infectious diseases and pesticides on amphibian population declines. I am continuing to broaden the implications of my work by participating in outreach events and translating science to appropriate stakeholders.


Brian Kastl (2016)

Brian Kastl_Field photoHow the program impacted me: The ESA GSPA program was an invaluable opportunity to learn effective communication skills to convey the importance of ecology research for successful policy development. Meetings with congressional offices and a US Senator shed light on strategies to address pressing issues at the state and national levels through ecology research. I am also grateful for the time that experienced science policy advisors and analysts in the ESA network generously provided to expose GSPA recipients to exciting career opportunities at the science-policy interface.

What I’m up to now: This experience on Capitol Hill instilled in me an even greater motivation to demonstrate meaningful policy applications of my PhD research on forest-based ecosystem services and water resources management. I am now better equipped to combine my academic research with my policy experience to pursue a fulfilling career at the intersection of ecology and policy.  

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Sara Kuebbing (2012)

Sara-KuebbingHow the program impacted me: As a GSPA recipient, I expanded my network of scientists and policy analysts and I learned first-hand how to engage with representatives and policy makers to promote sound science policies.

What I'm up to now: I have joined Professor Mark Bradford's ecosystem ecology lab at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies as a Gaylord Donnelley Postdoctoral Environmental Fellow where I'll be studying the impacts of co-occurring nonnative, invasive plants on ecosystem functioning. I am staying active in science policy and promoting sound policies regarding invasive plant species by collaborating with the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

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Kristen Lear (2016)

Kristin Lear

How the program impacted me: The ESA GSPA provided me with my first "hands-on" experience in science policy. I'd never visited a congressional office before, so the Hill meetings gave me a taste of how I can begin to incorporate policy into my own research and extracurricular activities. I still have several years left in my PhD program and am unsure exactly what I want to pursue afterwards, but I can now better see how I can apply my research and steer my career towards a direction that will have direct policy implications.


What I'm up to now: I am continuing with my PhD program in Integrative Conservation ( and Forestry & Natural Resources at the University of Georgia studying the conservation of endangered pollinating bats in Mexico through "bat-friendly" agave use and management. My work tackles both the ecological interactions between the bats and agaves, as well as the institutional and individual motivations for potential "bat-friendly" management practices within local communities.

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Michael Levy (2011)

GSPA website LevyHow the program impacted me: My GSPA experience gave me an experiential understanding of the lobbying and policy making processes -- what had been abstract was made human and concrete. This gave me the confidence to work with policy makers and helped me define a career path at the interface of science and policy.

What I'm up to now: I am a PhD student in the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis where we work to understand how policies designed to protect our natural resources can be made more effective. I use quantitative and complex systems tools including statistical modeling, network analysis, and agent-based modeling to understand the dynamics of coupled social-environmental systems.

Contact email:, Website:

Caitlin McDonough Mackenzie (2013)

GSPA-website-CMMHow the program impacted me: When the awarded trip to DC to lobby for federal funding for ecological research coincided with the Sequester of my field season funding, my meetings with legislative staffers gained a new immediacy. The program, and ‘The Ecologist Goes to Washington’ podcast stretched my science communication skills and introduced me to an amazing network of scientists working outside of academia.

What I'm up to now: I am still a PhD candidate at Boston University and still doing fieldwork studying plant communities in Acadia National Park. In Acadia, I work closely with the resource management staff and my research will supports the creation of a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the park.

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Brittany West Marsden (2014)

B  Marsden PicHow the program impacted me: Communicating why our research is important and relevant is essential and one of the most important aspects of being a scientist.  So, sharing the impact of my research with our elected representatives during congressional visits was incredibly empowering and made me feel like I am doing my part to ensure that our government representatives are informed and scientifically literate.  Interacting with other scientists who have pursued careers outside of research during ESA’s GSPA training also made me think more deeply about how I want to collaborate with broad, interdisciplinary networks of scientists and policy makers in my future to effectively address pertinent environmental and ecological issues.

What I'm up to now:  I am currently in the final stages of completing my dissertation at the University of Maryland and plan on graduating within the next year.  The positive experience I had with the GSPA encouraged me to pursue post-doctoral fellowship opportunities that emphasize links to science policy, such as the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship and Science & Technology Policy Fellowships.

Contact email: marsden.brittany@gmail.comWebsite:

Kellen Marshall (2011)

KellenMarshallHow the program impacted me: Being selected as a Graduate Student Policy Award recipient was an enriching experience that confirmed my interest in participating in the policy realm as a scientist.

What I'm up to now: Currently I am in the process of developing opportunities for conversing with policy makers to support their basic understanding of the current state of environmental issues in the state of Illinois with an organization called Vital Lands Illinois.  I am supporting this effort so that policy makers have access to basic necessary knowledge on natural resource matters, its connection to public health, education and our state’s economy using the best data available so that they may develop more informed positions on such matters.

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Ari Novy (2009)

ariHow the program impacted me: My experience as an ESA GSPA recipient cemented my interest in the important work that needs to be done at the intersection between policy and science. It spurred me to infuse the remainder of my graduate studies with deeper explorations of the policy-science interface, including taking coursework in policy and economics and even engaging in some social science research related to my scientific discipline. It led me to recognize the importance of communicating my work as a scientists, and indeed the work of the overall scientific enterprise, to a wider and more diverse audience than I had previously considered. In short, the GSPA was a transformative experience that opened my eyes to the world of how science is enabled by policy and how, in turn, science informs policy.

What I'm up to now: After graduating with my PhD in Plant Biology, I took a job as the Public Programs Manager at the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG), which is federal agency of the Legislative Branch of Government. I’m currently the Executive Director of the USBG, a position that allows me to regularly interface with the public and lawmakers with the mission of demonstrating the importance of plants to human and ecological well-being. Basically, I spend my days showing people how cool plants are.

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Adam Rosenblatt (2012)

GSPA website AdamHow the program impacted me: Being selected for the Graduate Student Policy Award was a great honor, and it allowed me to learn about how science policy is made at the national level and led me to appreciate the effort that goes into crafting public policy. It confirmed my interest in how governments make decisions about science and I have continued to pursue those interests at the state and local levels.

What I'm up to now: I am currently a postdoctoral associate at the Yale Climate and Energy Institute in New Haven, CT. My research at Yale focuses on the effects of climate change on ecosystem and food web dynamics as well as the social dimensions and international politics of climate change.

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Matthew Schuler (2013)

Matthew Schuler smallerHow the program impacted me:  I learned how to better communicate the importance of fundamental ecological research to scientists and non-scientists. Additionally, I learned how science policy can be shaped by ecological research, and how scientists can help shape science policy by informing Members of Congress about potential solutions to current ecological problems. I also had the wonderful opportunity to expand my network of peers and professional colleagues.

What I'm up to now: I am currently transitioning to a postdoctoral position at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Albany, NY. At Rensselaer, I will be working as a member of the Jefferson Project, studying the ecological impacts of human activities on Lake George, in upstate New York. The Jefferson Project is a multi-million dollar initiative that combines the skills and abilities of researchers from IBM, RPI, and members of the Lake George community. Over the past 100 years, the health and beauty of Lake George have been diminished, due to increased salinity, invasive species, nutrient runoff, and climate change. Our goal is to not only improve the quality of Lake George, but to develop technology and methods that will improve scientists' ability to detect and prevent major ecological problems in lake systems across the world. 

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Patrick Shirey (2010)

Shirey_Website_headshotHow the program impacted me: I've used my policy and communications training to aid the training of other scientists.  After completing my Ph.D. at Notre Dame in 2013, I taught Marine Biology as an adjunct professor part-time while taking care of my daughter full-time in spring 2014.  During the course, I incorporated science policy communication into student assignments, tasking the students with creating concise, one-page handouts that could quickly communicate marine science to policymakers and the public.  Following this course, I worked part-time as the first Policy Fellow for the American Fisheries Society to update their policy statements on threatened and endangered species conservation. 

What I'm up to now: After moving to my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA in summer 2015, I will be working as an Ecologist and Project Manager with a focus on Conservation Planning and Policy for R.A. Smith National starting in September of 2015. 

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Matthew Trager (2008)

TragerHow the program impacted me: When pursuing a graduate degree in science, even one in an “applied” field, it is very easy to overestimate the role of science in policy and decision making. The GSPA trip provided a valuable reminder to me that scientists should be prepared to explain why their work is interesting or important and that, in doing so, we may encounter substantial disagreement about the appropriate roles of science and scientists in society.

What I'm up to now:  I completed my Ph.D. in ecology in 2009 and since 2010 I have worked for the U.S. Forest Service as NEPA coordinator, planner and analyst.  I currently work for the National Forests in Florida where my background in law and ecology has allowed me to provide both policy- and science-based contributions to resource management.

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Tim Truer (2016)

Timothy Treuer

How the program impacted me: The GSPA was an awesome opportunity to meet inspiring peers and role models and to have a chance to get my hands dirty in policy advocacy. I really enjoyed hearing about the incredibly varied career paths taken by successful PhD ecologists that have shifted to policy work, particularly because it gave me a much stronger sense of how one can make the transition from academics to policy. The GSPA has both shaped my career plans and given me a lot more confidence in pursuing them.

What I’m up to now: I am currently finishing my PhD at Princeton University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, studying the biodiversity outcomes of different types of tropical dry forest regeneration in Costa Rica's Área de Conservación Guanacaste. I am staying involved in science policy as I finish my dissertation through participation in Princeton's Energy and Climate Scholars group and the Princeton Environmental Institute Science, Technology and Environmental Policy fellows program.

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Johanna Varner (2014)

GSPA-website-Johanna-VarnerHow the program impacted me: The GSPA trip and Congressional Visits day was a fabulous opportunity for me to learn more about how science policy is made and how to interact with a diversity of political views about investment in basic science. I definitely feel more prepared to engage in future policy initiatives.

What I'm up to now: I am still working to finish my PhD about climate change and alpine ecosystems. I am also working to develop citizen science monitoring programs for potentially sensitive species in the mountains.

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Dena Vallano (2007)

Dena-VelanoHow the program impacted me: The GSPA program offered me an exhilarating opportunity to communicate science to members of Congress and greatly influenced my desire to work at the interface of science and policy.

What I'm up to now I'm currently an ORISE Research Fellow at the U.S. EPA, where I work to advance federal activities related to net zero military partnerships, community sustainability and air quality monitoring. This role expands on my experience as a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the EPA Office of Research and Development (2011-2013).

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