Ecological Society of America and partners receive $207K NSF grant

Funding will advance participation of minority students in National Ecological Observatory Network

The Ecological Society of America has received a $207,000 National Science Foundation grant to cultivate the participation of underrepresented institutions and students in science and education within the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).  The grant is in partnership with the Science and Engineering Alliance, Inc. (SEA) and NEON, Inc.

“This is quite an historic partnership for us, and indeed, for the field of ecology,” said ESA’s Director of Education and Diversity Programs Teresa Mourad.

The funding will support an array of projects that involve undergraduate faculty and students in the development of NEON, whose national network of observatories will collect ecological data at continental scales over multiple decades. Projects will include educational webinars for undergraduate faculty, a social media workshop for college students, and a series of speaking tours to 17 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) that are part of the SEA Phosphorus Observational Network initiative.

“NEON is pleased to work with two strong organizations in building the foundations for participation of underrepresented minority undergraduate institutions and students in NEON science and education,” said Wendy Gram, NEON Chief of Education and Public Engagement.

Using large-scale datasets similar to data slated to be collected by NEON, the webinars will teach undergraduate faculty to recognize and assess how ecological systems vary and what causes them to change over time. Participating faculty will learn how to link observational data to their local ecological communities and extend these ideas to their teaching.

The use of social media is ubiquitous across college campuses, and the student workshop will enable students to use these technologies within the NEON framework. Students will explore how these fast-paced emerging technologies could help to close ecological knowledge gaps in environmental decision-making, from the local to the continental level.

Led by SEA, the college speaking tours will introduce HBCUs and MSIs to NEON science and gather in-depth insight into how they can interface with NEON within their research, development, education and outreach efforts.

“Helping NEON establish close ties with HBCUs and MSIs is a major dimension in risk reduction of NEON’s engagement strategy,” said Robert Shepard, SEA’s Executive Director.

Mourad thinks that the program’s design is part of the key to its success in broadening the fields of ecological science and education.

“I do believe the intentional design of working with a visionary organization such as SEA to cultivate relationships with underrepresented audiences is going to help define the future of the field,” she said.

ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 with more than 10,000 members worldwide in academia, government and the corporate sector.   ESA’s Education and Diversity Programs office offers a variety of programs to increase the diversity of the ecology-related professions and to improve the quality of ecology education.

SEA is a Washington, D.C. based 501(c)(3) corporation established in 1990 to address the challenge of establishing an ethnically diverse technical workforce prepared to compete in today’s global marketplace. Its unique program is dedicated to ensuring that historically underrepresented talent play a vital role in the nation’s scientific and engineering future.

NEON, Inc. is an independent 501(c)(3) corporation created to enable understanding and forecasting of the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species on continental-scale ecology. The Observatory will be the first of its kind to collect ecological data at continental scales over multiple decades, which will be readily available to scientists, educators, students, decision makers and the public to use to understand and address ecological questions and issues.