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 mobilizing a community on recovery efforts. A small group of participants will also write an article to be published in ESA’s open access Bulletin.
Most of all, when the meeting draws to a close, new friendships and bonds will have formed. Many students will have discovered a new-found confidence that will help them, communities and neighborhoods and the science of ecology.
Composite photo: Beatriz Otero, Dayani Pieri; SEEDS students in the Adirondacks; Damian McPherson. Credit: ESA file photos