was awarded the 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science,
Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). The award is administered
by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and includes a $10,000 grant that
will go towards sponsoring students for future Annual Meetings. The award
was presented to ESA at a White House ceremony on November 16, 2007. All
other recipients of the award were individuals – a testimony to ESA’s
commitment to diversity and the success of the various SEEDS initiatives.
The following reflections by Jason Taylor and Jeff Herrick highlight the
unique experience of mentoring. Jason Taylor was the Director for SEEDS and
left ESA in June to join the Utah Society for Environmental Education. Jeff
Herrick is a Research Scientist at the Jordana Experimental Range in New
Mexico. He was the fellowship mentor for Noemi Baquera and mentored Jorge
Acosta , Annie Vaughan, Leah Spellen and Josh Garcia during ESA Annual Meetings.
SEEDS Mentoring and Winning the Tour de France: A
The Tour de France has 20 stages. Typical ecologists
spend over 20 years preparing for their career. Like the Tour de France, the
stages on the path to an environmental science career in government,
academia, or the private sector are challenging and diverse. Staying in the
race requires a strong team. In the Tour, eight team members support a
leader, in the hope that they may be given the nod in the future. The
contributions of each team member vary, depending on the characteristics of
the stage. While mentoring is hard to do on a ‘pay it forward’ basis, most
leaders in ecology can easily identify a team of eight or more mentors who
supported them during the various stages of their career. The number,
diversity, and commitment of this team vary widely.
One of the strongest characteristics of
the SEEDS program is that it provides students with a team of mentors that
is larger, more diverse and (frequently) more committed than one that
students could assemble on their own. SEEDS mentors include short-term
‘Meeting mentors’ and long-term ‘Fellowship mentors’ (though some students
remain in touch with their Meeting mentors for many years). SEEDS students
are usually paired with a different mentor for each annual meeting they
attend. Many mentors take the time to introduce students to colleagues with
similar interests during poster sessions, in hallways, and during meals. In
some cases, impromptu support from others (which also occurs during the Tour
de France) can be more important than time spent with the student’s
designated mentoring team.
Each SEEDS student attending an annual meeting is also
paired with a more senior student, who can often serve as bridges with the
career ecologist mentor. ESA education staff members serve as informal
mentors throughout students’ participation in the SEEDS program, as they
have spent countless hours carefully matching students with Meeting mentors.
Each student leaves the national meeting with a diverse team of mentors that
includes several of their peers, at least one career ecologist, and members
of the ESA education staff.
Fellowship mentors, too, are carefully selected based
on shared interests and the willingness of the mentor to commit a
significant amount of time to the student, and their ability to integrate
the student into their existing team of colleagues, other students, and
technicians. This is arguably one of the more challenging mentoring
opportunities, as the students have high expectations of this unique chance
to complete the equivalent of a senior thesis outside of their home
While it can be argued that mentoring
is a responsibility for ecologists, the opportunity to serve as a SEEDS
mentor has, for me, been very much a privilege. The enthusiasm that SEEDS
students generate together, the support they provide for each others’
dreams, and the diversity of their perspectives are both energizing and
enlightening. While the time commitment associated with being a SEEDS
Meeting or Fellowship mentor is often greater than that associated with
other similar mentoring opportunities, the rewards are greater still. And
unlike the Tour de France, more than one team can – and does – win.
Jason Taylor writes:
The Ecological Society
of America (ESA), largely due to the success of the SEEDS program, just won
the 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Engineering and
Mathematics Mentoring (PAESMEM). This is a great honor for the Society, as
it is the highest award for science mentoring in the country. It's been a
long journey and a great many people, including the leadership and staff of
ESA (especially Melissa Armstrong and Katherine Hoffman) deserve a great
round of applause.
One challenging aspect
of an award like this is to ensure that the accomplishments of the
grassroots participants are recognized. I firmly believe that it is the
everyday actions of ESA members and SEEDS students that make the program
what it is today. You are the ones who work hard, who donate time, who
overcome shyness, who push aside cultural barriers, and who cry and laugh.
Each and every participant of the SEEDS program over the past 10+ years
deserves to take a moment, sit back, reflect, and revel in this wonderful
acknowledgement of your efforts.
While we were receiving
the award, I was asked what the ultimate outcome of success was in a
mentoring program. I didn't hesitate to say that it is when a participant
takes what they have learned and gives a piece of it back to their
community. For all of those who have participated in SEEDS over the past
decade, this is the perfect time to seize what you learned and give back.
What can you do, right now, to help mentor someone? Is it visiting a K-12
class to act as a role model? Is it walking into your Dean’s office and
asking for more mentoring support? Or is it just a random act of kindness
to a colleague or peer. Whatever it is, wherever you are, you can do
something! It was through everyday actions that this program became strong
and will continue to be, as each of you gives back and makes a difference.
those who have already passed through the program, be proud that you were
part of creating something great; for those just starting, welcome to the
Photo Credit: Rodney Choice and