Josh Atwood

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Josh Atwood
University of Rhode Island

Attending Bowdoin College in southern Maine helped to shape my interests in environmental science and ecology. Both the college’s proximity to rural areas and its liberal arts pedagogy fostered an appreciation for putting ecological studies in the context of society. Thus, my undergraduate work was both scientific and focused on community involvement. For example, I studied both the distribution of vascular plants in a rural town and the relationship of that distribution to town planning. In another project I studied changes in soil horizons over a heterogeneous landscape, and used that data to make a land-use history for a community farm. But perhaps my favorite combination of science and community was my participation in an environmental education program, in which I designed weekly lessons and term projects for a local fourth grade class.

My professional work after college included a term as an Americorps volunteer with the Maine state government, where I wrote an environmental children’s book and an accompanying curriculum. The book was successful, and after implementation in a number of classrooms across the country I received the New England Water Environment Association’s Public Educator of the Year Award. My experience working on curricula increased my desire to impact science education on a large scale, and was integral in my decision to further my own education in science.

When I enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Rhode Island, I was awarded a fellowship with the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which focuses on interdisciplinary use of scientific information and increased communication with the public. The IGERT fellowship is allowing me to both enhance my understanding of science and increase my ability to use science in a social context.

My beliefs of how ecological knowledge should be envisaged and implemented in society mirror my experiences of merging science and public education. I believe the key to generating and implementing useful ecological information is to integrate multiple disciplines and increase communication with the public. Viewing any real-world issue through the multiple lenses of ecology, economics, politics, and culture (among others) will provide any researcher with a better understanding of how research problems should be addressed. This understanding will be crucial to making science relevant and useful in a changing world.

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