Ecological Society of America awarded National Science Foundation funding to retain diversity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 1 June 2015
Contact: Teresa Mourad, 202-833-8773 ext. 234,


SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley starting in fall, 2015, studies artificial selection of medicinal and edible traits in plants native to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean islands with support from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Read an interview to learn more about Betsabé's experience with SEEDS.

SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley starting in fall, 2015, studies artificial selection of medicinal and edible traits in plants native to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean islands with support from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Read an interview to learn more about Betsabé’s experience with SEEDS.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded  a $597,643 grant to the Ecological Society of America’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, supporting a three-pronged approach to increase diversity within the ecological field. The grant spans four years, beginning today.

The new NSF award will support activities that guide students to identify ecology as a viable career option, develop a sense of personal connection with science, and surmount cultural stereotypes that hinder participation. It will also fund development of a mechanism for connecting the “marketplace” of opportunities along a variety of career pathways in ecology.

“While most diversity programs seek to recruit and engage underrepresented students, this SEEDS project expands our work with the aim of retaining underrepresented students in the ecological field,” said Teresa Mourad, ESA Director of Education and Diversity Programs.

A 2011 National Academy of Science study indicates that underrepresented minority populations in the science and engineering workforce needs to triple to keep pace with the nation’s changing demographics. 

The NSF grant supports three new activities building on the existing SEEDS program: regional ecological field experiences, partnerships with field stations and researchers for undergraduate summer research, and a SEEDS Certificate program. Although the program is open to all students, it makes a special effort to attract minorities, first-generation college students, economically-disadvantaged and veteran students.

Working with over 90 SEEDS campus chapters across the US, regional field experiences funded by the NSF grant are designed specifically for freshmen and sophomore college students to gain real-world exposure by working hand-in-hand with ecologists. For many underrepresented students, this is usually their first opportunity to work at a field station or engage in a field investigation.

New ecological field station partnerships will offer more summer research opportunities for undergraduate students.  They will present their summer research at SEEDS Leadership Meetings and the ESA Annual Meeting. Held annually, the Leadership Meeting is an opportunity for SEEDS student leaders to engage in a dialogue about the connections between science and society. The meeting provides a venue for SEEDS participants to develop 21st century skills and understanding in communications, policy, community outreach and education, rounding out their experience as young scientists.

SEEDS students on the first regional field trip to Puerto Rico, in 2013.

SEEDS students record measurements in Puerto Rico on the program’s first regional field trip, in 2013.

Set for a Fall, 2015 launch, the SEEDS Certificate will function as the hub to provide students with a range of experiences to prepare them for an ecological career.  An ESA member will mentor each participating student during and after their participation in SEEDS to advise them in their career development. This is the first time that ESA will implement long-term mentoring in SEEDS.

“Just-in-time advising is critical for many students to succeed in ecology,” said Mourad.  “All too often, underrepresented students are simply unaware of the skills and experiences needed to succeed. For instance, students do not commonly know that research experience is required for acceptance into a graduate ecology program.”

Minority students face an additional hurdle—some of their institutions do not have ecology programs or cannot provide ecology research experiences.  This means they must seek out opportunities. SEEDS is designed to facilitate opportunities for them. Students also need to know the range of ecology careers that are available in both research and applied practice.


SEEDing a diverse peer network:  read an interview with SEEDs alumna Betsabé Castro, currently completing her MA at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She will begin a PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2015 with support from the NSF’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

ESA’s Diversity Program receives NSF Award

ESA SEEDs logo

Media Advisory

For immediate release: May 2, 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn,, 202.833.8773, ext. 205


The Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) long-standing program to diversify the field of ecology recently got another boost from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The federal research agency awarded ESA a grant of $183,158 to support the Society’s “Diverse People for a Diverse Science” project. Not only will the funding go to key existing program components, such as research fellowships, it will also fund an independent evaluation of SEEDS.

“As a longtime SEEDS supporter and current advisory board member, I’ve always been convinced we could make a real difference for ESA and the field of ecology by doing all we can to promote diversity within our profession,” said Mark Brunson, professor at Utah State University. “So as a researcher, I’m excited that now with this grant we’ll be able to get a scientifically rigorous, expert assessment of what we’re doing so we can increase our momentum toward our diversity goals.”

The professional evaluation will assess SEEDS program activities between 2002 and 2012, documenting outcomes, effectiveness of program components and identifying opportunities to strengthen the program. Among other questions, it will explore to what extent SEEDS has increased participants’ knowledge about ecology, pathways to enter the field and increased engagement within ESA and in community-based activities. Evaluators will also look at the ways in which SEEDS has influenced the many ESA members who have served as student mentors over the years.

The NSF grant will also allow ESA to initiate two new regional field trips to connect students with opportunities and researchers in their own communities.

The mission of SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability) is to diversify and advance the ecology profession through opportunities that stimulate and nurture the interest of underrepresented students to participate, and to lead in ecology. Focused mainly at the undergraduate level—with extension services for communities, high schools, graduate students, and international collaborations—the program envisions wide representation in the ecology field. Key activities include Undergraduate Research Fellowships, leadership development, travel awards to ESA’s Annual Meeting and a national field trip.

Jeramie Strickland, who also serves on the SEEDS Advisory Board, is an alum of the program. Now a wildlife biologist for the Fish & Wildlife Service, Strickland credits SEEDS for helping him on the path to his chosen career. “SEEDS has made significant progress in bringing diversity into ecology by providing professional development and mentoring opportunities for underserved students. Working with SEEDS helped me get my foot in the door for graduate school and with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Formative Evaluation Research Associates (FERA) is conducting the SEEDS program evaluation. FERA is a woman-owned firm with experience evaluating NSF-supported and other science education programs focused on engaging underrepresented groups.

The Ecological Society of America is the largest professional organization for ecologists and environmental scientists in the world. The Society’s 10,000 members work to advance our understanding of life on Earth, directly relevant to environmental issues such energy and food production, natural resource management, and emerging diseases. ESA works to broadly share ecological information through activities that include policy and media outreach, education and diversity initiatives and projects that link the ecological research and management communities and help integrate ecological science into decision-making.  The Society also organizes scientific conferences and publishes high-impact journals. Visit the ESA website at