Spreading SEEDS, growing diversity

“Diversity fosters novel ideas that will soon begat significant changes to the global environment—whether that be through action-oriented ecology, bio-cultural conservation, policy or media,” said Iman Sylvain, Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) Fellow and graduate student at the University of Michigan. SEEDS is an education program of Ecological Society of America (ESA), and Iman is one of several SEEDS students who will be attending and presenting research at ESA’s upcoming Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

For her undergraduate research, Sylvain studied sustainable agriculture ecology in Malawi, Africa with her mentor Sieglinde Snapp. She recently graduated from Howard University and will begin her graduate studies this fall at the University of Michigan, focusing again on sustainable agriculture. This will be her second time attending an ESA Conference through her participation with the SEEDS program, and her fellowship has provided financial support to travel to the meetings—providing lodging and food, and covering all registration fees. Said Sylvain about the Annual Meeting:

It is very inspiring to be surrounded by professors, students and those working in non-academic careers who are all focused on environmental issues. There is only so much an ecology student can learn from a textbook; the majority of my knowledge comes from personal interactions with ecologists.

Iman and Jeselyna Calderon-Ayala at 2010 SEEDS Leadership Meeting in Los Altos, California

A total of 38 students, including four alumni, are participating in the SEEDS program during the 2010 ESA Meeting, 26 of whom will be directly supported by SEEDS. Seven additional students, including three high school students for the first time, will be attending the ESA Annual Meeting through the SEEDS Packet program which allows students to join SEEDS for a small fee.

“Attending the ESA meeting will be the peak of my undergraduate years,” said Ricky Rivera, who has participated with SEEDS for several years through the LIFE Chapter at the University of Puerto Rico, Bayamón. “I believe this is so because I’ll be able to present research work completed during that time. Thus it feels like I’m contributing to the community of ecologists that will attend the meeting.”

Rivera participated for the first time in a national SEEDS opportunity this spring when he led a portion of the Spring 2010 SEEDS field trip to Puerto Rico. He introduced field trip students to the conservation efforts at the Northeastern Ecological Corridor. The ESA Annual Meeting will mark Rivera’s first time participating in a SEEDS opportunity outside of Puerto Rico; he will be presenting his research “What’s eating you? How predation and parasitoidism suppress populations of Lema daturaphila” at a poster session on Monday, August 2, 2010.

“That’s the main reason for which I applied for the SEEDS ESA Meeting Travel grant,” he said. “So that I could present my work to my peers and learn from the different ideas that others may have. I hope that I can meet and share ideas with fellow ecologists that may allow us to solve ecological problems which we are faced with today, such as loss of biodiversity and use of nonrenewable fuels among others alternatives.”

Rita White, currently interning with the Washington Internships for Native Students in Washington, D.C., will also be attending the Pittsburgh meeting to gain experience, network with colleagues and further her career.

“I plan to sit down with fellow students and go from there,” she said. “It would be an honor to be among other fellow students in the research field. This meeting will motivate students to go beyond their potential and establish a career.”

White graduated from Diné College in Shiprock, New Mexico with an Associate of Science in Environmental Science and served as president of the Diné Ecology Club. The Dine College Chapter was started in 2008 and has since become a strong, highly active Chapter within the SEEDS network of 63 Chapters. She participated in the 2010 SEEDS Leadership Meeting where she highlighted the efforts of the Chapter in community sustainability. Among other goals, the Club was responsible for recycling and keeping the campus environmentally friendly.

“As a club, we invited presenters to speak to fellow students in the math and science field,” White said. “Some presentations involved environmental impact issues within the Navajo reservation. The club became stakeholders for Diné Care—we attended meetings held at locations with other stakeholders to discuss environmental impacts and worked together to find a resolution.”

White explained that environmental impact issues occur frequently on her reservation and it has inspired her to choose a career in environmental law “to meet this need of giving back to my community as a voice on behalf of the environment and all who dwell on it.”

“I think more native students need to take on the fields in the math, science, health field and help their community,” Rita continued. “I will be taking on new challenges and [striving] to work to make my dreams in working in the environmental field a reality.”

Sylvain added, “SEEDS students have a variety of interests and gifts, and this program has given us the tools to excel in our field and to change the world.”

SEEDS’s mission is to diversify and advance the ecology profession through opportunities that stimulate and nurture the interest of underrepresented students to not only participate in ecology, but to lead. For details on the sessions Sylvain, Rivera and White will be participating in, visit the searchable program for ESA’s Annual Meeting. Downloading the SEEDS toolbar helps support future SEEDS students.