SEEDing a peer network for all students: an interview with SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro
Jun01

SEEDing a peer network for all students: an interview with SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro

SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro is a recipient of prestigious 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award. Castro completed her BS at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, and is currently completing her MA at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She will begin her PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2015. ESA’s SEEDS program is the proud recipient of a new 4-year, $597, 643 grant to develop 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. Read more about it in the SEEDS NSF award announcement. Interview by Teresa Mourad, Director, Education and Diversity Programs,ESA   What is your research project about? My research question is: Can artificial selection of ethnobotanical plants enhance phenotypic variation?  I am interested in comparing plants selected for their medicinal and edible value in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, as well as other Caribbean islands, to examine whether the selection of those traits lead to evolutionary change and variation in phenotypes.   What shaped your project? I have always been interested in plant-people interactions.Looking back, I can trace my interest to my childhood, where I spent many hours with my grandparents while my mother worked more than one job. We could not always see a doctor when sick, but my grandparents both knew how to prepare herbal medicines using plants in their backyard. I would help them to prepare traditional herbal decoctions, infusions, and aromatherapy inhalations. I started out in college thinking I would study medicine but quickly realized that it was not for me. Then I discovered a strong curiosity towards environmental science and ecology courses in the second year of college. I also reconnected with my ethnobotanical interest after taking a workshop on medicinal plants with Maria Benedetti and a course on Puerto Rican ethnobotany with Dr. Gladys Nazario. Since then, I have been involved in multiple projects: investigating the ecological role of the invasive African grass (Megathyrsus maximus) on Mona Island in Puerto Rico; examining a trophic cascade involving humans, coyotes, mule deer, and native wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains; studying biocultural conservation of Mapuche traditional ecological knowledge in Puerto Saavedra, Chile; exploring ethnobotanical properties of invasive species in Puerto Rico; and in my most recent research project evaluating linguistic endangerment worldwide from a socioecological approach. I must say that I have fell in love with both ecology and ethnobotany! I feel that listening to the people in our communities is of great value. Our elders have traditional ecological and botanical knowledge that should not be ignored. They...

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Let’s try to get eaten!
Jun16

Let’s try to get eaten!

Whelp, they look like they’re having fun.
Masaaki Yuasa has some thoughts to share about what makes learning fun, even when it has a gross, bitter taste, in season 6, episode 7 of the animated series Adventure Time.

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How are we doing in U.S. STEM education? A timeline.
Oct01

How are we doing in U.S. STEM education? A timeline.

What level of education do US S&E workers have? How well do 8th graders score in math and science? How often do parents help their kids with homework?

All this and more in a new data collection from the National Science Board.

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Educators & scientists to swap ideas for a robust biology classroom

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Say you’re a plant biologist who wants to devise educational components for your research project but you’re not sure what might work well for high school students.  Or say you’re a high school biology teacher looking to ramp up how you challenge your students with the latest research findings and tools.  Enter the upcoming Life Discovery Conference, which will bring about 120 educators and scientists together to enrich biology education for high school and undergraduate students. Organized by a consortium of four scientific societies with a collective membership of nearly 20,000, the inaugural conference will take place at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, from March 15-16, 2013.  The conference is part of the consortium’s Digital Resource Discovery project, led by Teresa Mourad, Director of Education and Diversity Programs at the Ecological Society of America. “This will really be a small working conference,” said Jeff Corney, conference local host and managing director of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.  “It’s structured to promote the use of digital resources and new technologies, publish classroom-friendly resources in LifeDiscoveryEd Digital Library and emphasize research-rich biology education.” Peer working groups will give educators feedback on lesson plans or activities during education share fair roundtables held during the conference. “Our vision is to offer a session format where educators and scientists can present their digital resources to their peers for feedback by submitting a draft entry into the digital library,” explains Corney. “We hope that in this manner, they will quickly understand the issues for high quality education and incorporate suggestions and ideas by their peers.” Another goal envisioned by the partnering organizations is to encourage communities of practice. “We really want to foster greater interaction between educators and scientists,” said Thomas Meagher, Conference Planning Chair and professor at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. “These groups have so much to learn from each other and together can greatly enhance our mutual desire for greater hands-on, data-driven biology in the classrooms.” In addition to the education share fair roundtables, the conference will include keynote presentations and panel discussions from a wide range of educators and scientists, such as Jay Labov, Senior Advisor for Education and Communication for the National Academy of Sciences, Nancy Geving, a high school science coach for St. Paul public schools and Gillian Roehrig, with the University of Minnesota’s STEM Education Center. Workshops and short presentations geared to enhance understanding of key concepts and active learning techniques will also take place both days. Among the topics: using technology to connect students and scientific data, solving engineering problems in nature, using mathematical modeling to...

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Diverse People for a Diverse Science

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs “Just watch these students—watch for their names.  They will continue to shine and you will keep coming across their names.  Some are already taking leadership roles and after this meeting will be doing even more to help bring ecology alive.” Teresa Mourad is talking about the undergraduate students who will gather next week for the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) SEEDS Leadership Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Mourad is ESA’s Director of Education and Diversity Programs and manages its award-winning SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability) program. SEEDS’ mission is to diversify and advance the ecology profession through opportunities that stimulate and nurture the interest of underrepresented undergraduate students to not only participate in ecology, but to lead. The program’s 8th annual leadership meeting will bring together over 35 students to participate in a four-day meeting they helped develop and will help run.  Held this year at Dillard University, a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in New Orleans, the February 20-23 meeting will feature workshops, field trips, data analysis, discussion panels and projects all under the rubric of ecological recovery and harnessing science to build social resilience. Mourad says this year’s theme and location really underscore the human components of environmental disasters.  SEEDS students are very interested in seeing the science of ecology make a difference in human communities, such as those impacted by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.  The leadership meeting will include a case study of the hurricane as well as the BP oil spill of 2010. “Being there to witness a rebounding community—I hope that the students leave with a sense of hope, a sense of what is possible,” says Mourad. The students will learn how ecological impacts of disasters are measured and what role ecologists have played before and after these events.  They will conduct natural resource damage assessments in the New Orleans lower 9th ward neighborhood and will also learn about rebuilding the city and ways in which ecologists can inform and support recovery efforts. ESA’s president, Scott Collins (University of New Mexico) will run a workshop on scientific ethics to explore topics such as the responsibility of researchers toward the community. Faculty members from the University of New Orleans, Loyola University and Dillard University will also run workshops at the meeting. Tracy Austin, Executive Director of the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas, will share with SEEDS students her insights on careers in the private sector.  Mitsubishi is helping to support this year’s SEEDS Leadership Program. Working with mentors, students will develop recommendations and ideas that address key components of the meeting, such as...

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60 years of helping graduate students pursue their dreams

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Earlier this afternoon, the National Science Foundation (NSF) celebrated the 60th anniversary of its Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), the nation’s oldest fellowship program directly supporting graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Featuring high-level science luminaries such as Nobel prize-winner and Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the program highlighted the contributions of NSF-supported graduate research fellows and underscored the agency’s continued commitment to supporting aspiring scientists and engineers.  The program supports individuals of high potential early in their careers who receive an annual stipend and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited US institution of graduate research they choose. The highly competitive program (this year, 12,000 individuals applied for 2,000 slots) started in 1952 when winners were notified via telegram.  In the past 60 years, the agency has supported over 45,500 graduate fellows, among them Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Maxine Singer, President Emeritus, Carnegie Institution for Science. A highlight of the afternoon celebration was the showing of three short videos, the winning entries of NSF’s video contest that asked current GRFs to submit 90 second videos showcasing how their research can “help shape the future-for them as individuals, for their fields of work, even for the world.” Erica Staaterman, a graduate student in marine biology at the University of Miami won 3rd prize for her video showing her work in acoustic navigation in reef fish larvae.  Candy Hwang, a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Southern California won 2nd prize for her video entry depicting her aspirations to reduce fossil fuels and mitigate climate change.  When she stepped to the podium to accept her prize for the video, Hwang shared with the audience her extreme excitement when she first learned she had won a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  Waking up at 4 am, she fairly quivered with excitement and a renewed sense of urgency in making a difference in the world.  Upon arriving at her lab however, her shaking hands made lab work that day impossible and her advisor kindly told her to go home and calm down first.  Eric Keen, a marine biologist at the University of California in San Diego won first prize for his video highlighting the need to better understand fin whales that forage along the coast of British Columbia.  NSF says the winning videos will be posted online later today here. The afternoon celebration also included short vignettes by former graduate research fellows including Energy Secretary Chu and University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer.  Chu, who received over $6...

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ESA session showcases minority outreach opportunities

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst During the Ecological Society America’s (ESA) 2012 annual meeting in Portland, an organized oral session showcased several programs and initiatives that work to expand ecological education and job opportunities for the nation’s underrepresented minorities.  During the session “Increasing Representation of Minorities in Ecology: What Works?” attendees heard from professors, students, federal agency and staff from the Ecological Society of America on programs that successfully engage minority groups in the field of ecology. Deborah Goldberg, from the University of Michigan’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), talked about the work her university is doing to increase recruitment and retention of a more diverse student body. This work includes the Frontiers Masters Program, a National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative that seeks to bring graduate students into the field of ecology and evolution who might not otherwise consider it. Since the program’s inception in 2008, several students have moved on to EEB’s doctoral program. William Van Lopik of the College of the Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wisconsin discussed the role US tribal colleges–attended primarily by Native American students–play in providing a unique research perspective to the broader ecological community. Several speakers, including Talia Young with Rutgers University and Luben Dimov with Alabama A&M University noted the importance of mentoring. Dimov also discussed his research on the success of NSF’s Undergraduate Research and Mentoring in the Biological Sciences program. Young noted how 21st Century social media communications, including cell phone texting and Facebook have played a key role in helping her to stay in touch with the high school students she mentors. Teresa Mourad, Director of ESA’s Diversity and Education Programs, and Melissa Armstrong of Northern Arizona University, discussed ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, which, among its many activities, has provided ecological field trips and undergraduate research fellowships to promote student participation and engagement with the broader ecological community. SEEDS’s achievements have been recognized at the national level as the program was the 2006 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Jeramie Strickland discussed how his participation in SEEDS and other diversity programs eventually helped him land his current position as a wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Strickland also mentors with the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science program and the Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology program, which receives support from ESA and NSF. During the Q & A portion of the session, one audience member asked whether ESA would be better served to invest in students who are already the “best...

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Talking Urban Ecology at the USA Science Festival

By Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Families with young children, teenagers, older adults, teachers, and even a pair of young Army soldiers visited ESA’s booth over the weekend of April 28 and 29 at the USA Science & Engineering Festival and learned about the ecology of Washington, DC and its nearby suburbs. Some were drawn immediately to the terrarium which housed mysterious creatures.  Never mind that they weren’t colorful or furry—children and adults alike wanted to know what was inside and some even accepted our invitation to move around the stones and moss to discover what might be hiding underneath.  Others strode up to ESA’s urban ecology game poster and wanted to know what the creature with the enormous eyes was (a jumping spider) or announced that they knew that image number four was a “roly-poly.”  Some immediately knew that the old painting depicted on our game poster was the White House but were perplexed by the creek and marsh birds they also saw in the painting. ESA President Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, George Middendorf of Howard University and two of his students and several ESA staff worked the ESA booth this past Saturday and Sunday, highlighting various aspects of the ecology taking place in urban environments.  For example, they explained that the stream flowing by the White House in the 1820s was Tiber Creek and that it is one of three streams that were buried to develop the land above and provide sewer channels below. Many visitors to ESA’s booth had heard that Washington, DC had been built on a swamp.  But the real story and reason that the nation’s capital contends with flooding issues is that it lies in a floodplain, at the confluence of two rivers (Potomac and Anacostia) and atop three buried streams (Tiber Creek, James Creek, and Slash Run).  In fact, collectively, multiple federal buildings pump over a million gallons of water a day from their basements. ESA’s terrarium inhabitants—centipedes, a spider dashing around with her eggcase, earthworms, pill-bugs and beetle were also popular with visitors.  In addition to learning about some of the small animals living in urban and suburban settings, visitors also learned that coyotes and red-tailed hawks have learned how to live in big cities, including Washington, DC.  Some mistook the coyote image for a fox or a wolf and some thought the red-tailed hawk was an owl, but they knew they were predators and were often surprised to learn that they have adapted to life in close proximity to humans.  The coyotes in Rock Creek Park, in the heart of Washington, DC, drag...

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