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2019 Year in Review: Past President Laura Huenneke

As we celebrate the turn of the seasons, we benefit from looking back at the year behind us to help plan the priorities of the months ahead. My term as president (and more recently past president) of the Ecological Society of America was marked by several key moments for ESA and its members. In particular, this was the first full year of leadership by our executive director, Catherine O’Riordan. It was a real pleasure to work closely with her as she oriented herself to our community and to the operations of our Society, and as she brought her new perspectives and insights to bear on some of our long-term opportunities.

One immediate benefit of the new leadership was an enlarged vision of our routine planning cycle. While the regular 3-year update of ESA’s strategic plan was already slated to occur during my term, Catherine helped us expand the effort to rewrite (or in some cases craft for the first time) clear statements about our mission, vision, and values. Board members provided initial drafts of these, but senior staff, section and chapter chairs, and eventually all attendees at the Annual Meeting in Louisville in August 2019 were invited to weigh in and provide feedback. ESA now enters 2020 with not only an updated set of strategic priorities, but also descriptions of its vision and values that help us communicate with stakeholders and supporters.

Communication was a major theme throughout my year as president. I didn’t anticipate the degree to which I’d be reaching out to our membership as a whole – and hearing back from you all. The outreach began virtually immediately as my term began, when concerns about the Louisville meeting location erupted during our 2018 meeting in New Orleans. The concerns prompted my letter to our members soliciting their perspectives on issues of access and inclusion at the Louisville meeting. In addition to influencing our decisions about planning and running the meeting, this exchange prompted me to write monthly to the membership through the ESA newsletter. I really enjoyed these opportunities, from choosing topics of relevance, to researching and writing them, to hearing back – either through the ESA office or through personal emails. The monthly calls that Membership Director Jon Miller hosts for section and chapter chairs offered another setting for direct conversation with ESA’s stakeholders.

Communication was aimed externally, as well, in our efforts to advocate for ecology and for ecologists. We led a number of scientific societies in expressing concern about a proposal to limit proposal submissions to the National Science Foundation’s BIO directorate, resulting in a reversal of that change. And we kept communication lines open, even during the challenge of a federal government shutdown, during January 2019 when personnel changes within NEON (the National Ecological Observatory Network) worried many within our community.

Diversity and inclusion constituted another major theme for the year, an outgrowth of the Extending the Tent initiative launched in 2018. Recommendations for increasing inclusion were passed on to ESA’s program directors and committees, and diversity was highlighted in the theme of the 2019 Annual Meeting. Despite the challenges of the Kentucky location, the Louisville meeting itself embraced a broad diversity of voices and experiences – from the land acknowledgment I gave in my opening comments to the remarkable voices we heard in the plenary lectures and beyond. A fundraising appeal augmented the travel grants we were able to provide to bring diverse participants to the meeting.

ESA’s role as publisher of leading research journals was another recurring topic. Management and Governing Board members spent considerable time tracking the development of Plan S and other movements related to open access and the changing business model for scientific publication. Meanwhile we recruited a new Editor-in-Chief for Ecology and launched a search for a new leader for Ecological Applications. The Governing Board has been discussing the entire portfolio of ESA journals and potential opportunities to better serve authors as well as readers of ecological science. Our editors-in-chief and the Publications Committee will continue to bring creativity and energy to our partnership with Wiley in producing journals that publish high-quality, high-impact science that serves our broader community.

My year as president of ESA was by turns fascinating, frustrating, and fulfilling. Some issues that were familiar from my earlier terms on the Governing Board remain stubbornly resistant to easy solutions. Other aspects of the Society – its financial ability to provide member services, its professionalism in governance, its attention to inclusion – have advanced tremendously. I’m grateful to the countless ESA members who are the lifeblood of our society and of our profession, for the honor of representing and serving you.