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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Using Facebook to share ecology

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs “What do the small ground finch, medium ground finch, and Charlie Sheen have in common?  You may know the answer after today’s lecture…;)” James McGraw (pictured above), a professor of ecology at West Virginia University, posted the above question on his Facebook Group page for undergraduate biology.  After several others had ventured guesses, one astute student provided the correct answer:  “character displacement.”  Yes, groan-inducing puns (are there any others?) became one characteristic of the professor’s social media experiment which he relates in a recent article in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. He’d noticed that in this large (100-plus) introductory biology course, attracting and holding the attention of students was growing ever more challenging.  Not only is the sheer size not conducive to effectively engaging students, many undergraduates enrolled in such classes are simply getting a requirement out of the way, and may not be terribly enthusiastic or see the relevance of the material to their lives or career goals.  And the constant distraction of online alternatives to one’s actual surroundings added new and powerful competition to the professor’s attempt to capture the attention of his pupils. As McGraw noted with dismay: “….many of them can be found staring intently at their smart phones, tapping away at the face of their ever present electronic companions….some of these students remain transfixed by their i-devices 20 minutes into the lecture.” So McGraw decided to become part of their online conversation and started a Facebook Group page for his biology class.  Recognizing that some have significant privacy concerns with social media, he did not make this a course requirement and did not share vital course material via Facebook to which nonjoiners did not also have access.    His primary objective was to provide students opportunities to think more deeply about ecological topics. By the end of the semester, 119 out of 189 students (63 percent) had joined the Biology Facebook Group.  Forty percent were “lurkers” who never posted a “like” or a “comment” while 71 students contributed comments, links, or “liked” a particular post. McGraw’s used the Biology Facebook Group page to link news articles that were relevant to material covered in class, to encourage students to take advantage of relevant lectures on campus, to introduce them to other ecologists, and to generate discussion about a particular concept.  He also started a miniseries of “Creature Feature” posts whereby students who participated in extra-credit bird walks got to vote on their favorite bird of the day, usually by selecting the “splashiest” bird species, such as Indigo Bunting or Scarlet Tanager. At...

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Sharing ecology online

It is no secret that the world is becoming increasingly digital. The evening news has less of a role in disseminating leading headlines than a friend or colleague does. That is, social media outlets have become primary sources of news—in general, stories vetted by friends, coworkers and family members have gained more credibility than a random, syndicated news report. This change in interactive networking brings with it challenges and a unique potential to broaden and simultaneously deepen conversations about science. As a result, the Ecological Society of America, has launched a new Facebook page as part of its efforts to initiate dialogue about the Society and ecological research, policy engagement, education and other initiatives in general. The new Facebook page allows you to Like ESA, post on the wall, view or add photos and start a discussion. You can also subscribe to the new Facebook page on your phone or as an RSS feed to receive ESA news and updates from the ecological community. ESA also provides updates on Twitter @ESA_org. And during this year’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas, tweeting enters meeting attendees into a drawing for the new ESA t-shirt, “Ecologists Do It in the Field.” Use Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on Earth Stewardship—in addition to networking with colleagues and receiving real-time meeting and Society announcements. Join the conversation about Earth Stewardship using #earthsteward on Twitter and mentioning “Earth Stewardship” on ESA’s Facebook wall. All responses will be automatically entered into the daily drawing. To share information about the annual meeting in general, use #ESA11 on Twitter. The theme of this year’s meeting, “Earth Stewardship: Preserving and enhancing the earth’s life-support systems,”will be explored in the numerous presentations and discussions during the conference.  The Society hopes some participants will also use the Society’s social media venues to share opinions, ideas, insights and suggestions. With your help, these contributions can help ESA formulate the best approaches to enhancing Earth Stewardship. Participants MUST be attending the annual meeting in order to collect the prizes. Winners will be announced on Twitter through ESA’s Twitter page, using the @mention feature to notify the winner. They will also be announced on ESA’s Facebook wall. Prizes will be picked up at the ESA booth in the exhibit hall. Photo Credit: Karl-Ludwig...

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Shrew poo and worm goo are science too

Last week I had the pleasure of being a speaker at Buck Lodge Middle School’s Career Day. Several public schools in Maryland, where Buck Lodge is located, and other states organize important events like these to get students thinking about future opportunities. Do you remember what it was like to be in middle school? To the middle school me, a career seemed distant, vague and, frankly, too overwhelming to really think about. But the big question was always on my mind: What do I want to be? As I told the students at Buck Lodge, at the time, I knew I enjoyed writing and painting and found science fascinating, but that was the scope of my “career path.” I chose a high school and college known for their science programs—seemingly small decisions that actually said quite a bit about my true interests. But it wasn’t until a couple years into college that my advisor told me about a career in science writing; the more I learned about it, the more I knew it was the right fit. I was able to learn about the latest research and share it in creative ways. As I tried to express to the students, this is why I chose science: It can be fun, weird and important all at once, and it can show you a side to the world you never knew existed. So when I explained my career to the students at Buck Lodge, I wanted to show my excitement about the two main components of my job: science and writing. The science part was, naturally, what the students found most entertaining. At the beginning of each class, I asked the students how many of them liked “science, any kind of science.” Usually a sprinkling of hands rose. Then when I asked how many students liked animals or bugs, the hands shot up. “That is what I do,” I said, “I write about animals, bugs, plants, bacteria and how they all interact with each other and their environment. This science is called ecology.” The students inevitably wanted to know about the “coolest” or “weirdest” thing a (ecological) scientist has studied. I asked them if they had heard of the water bear. In one class, the students logically guessed a water bear is a bear that is particularly good at swimming. But the room erupted in “Ew!”s and “Gross!”s when I explained that the water bear is a microscopic animal living in mosses and wet environments all over the world—that they may have actually touched a water bear and not even known it. The students continued to comment on its translucent cuticle...

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Science in a “culture of news-grazers”

When was the last time you sat down after dinner to watch the local news? How about the last time you forwarded or received a link to a news story? Odds are, with the prevalence of social networking, blogs and email, you probably sent or received news in some form during your lunch break this afternoon. In fact, just by reading this post you are providing evidence that consumers tend to prefer cherry picking news throughout the day, rather than replenishing their news supply all at once.

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