ESA Announces 2014 Graduate Student Policy Award Winners

WASHINGTON, DC – The Ecological Society of America has selected the 2014 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland) and Johanna Varner (University of Utah). The five students will travel to Washington, DC in April to participate in policy training sessions as well as meetings with decision-makers on Capitol Hill.


Anderson complements her research into atmospheric nitrogen deposition with participation in a National Science Foundation-Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), focused on training scientists in policy. Through IGERT, she served as a Science Policy Fellow with the US Global Change Research Program. IGERT has offered her the opportunity to collaborate with non-governmental organization scientists, cabinet advisors and policy analysts. She has also attended several workshops on communicating with policymakers and the media.

BinghamBingham, a Geographic Information Specialist with the National Park Service (NPS), has collaborated with scientists and policy experts in using geospatial data to analyze air quality for use in NPS in-house studies, peer-reviewed journals, congressional reports and interagency sharing. Bingham’s geospatial data work with NPS over the past decade has included service as a resource advisor during the BP gulf oil spill. In his master’s work at the University of Colorado he studies biogeochemical cycling and science-policy interactions.

ChildressAfter spending years in DC immersed in policy engagement, Childress decided to pursue an Ecology Ph.D. to further her understanding of climate change mitigation. During her graduate studies, she contributed to the National Climate Assessment through her work with the Great Plains Climate Assessment Technical Report. Childress’s time in Washington, DC included service as a page in the US House of Representatives and an intern for the Speaker of the House. In recent years, she has also served in the H. John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

MarsdenMarsden was inspired to apply her research on aquatic vegetation populations towards policy after stints as an environmental educator at the US Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Research Refuge and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She’s also been a recipient of the Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship among other awards. Her close vicinity to the DC region coupled with her frequent usage of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration environmental records in referencing for her research gave Marsden a unique understanding of how ecological research can be hampered by sequestration and federal government shutdowns.

VarnerVarner’s graduate research focuses on the American Pika, which shares the same species order as rabbits and hares. She is currently working with the Oregon Zoo, the US Forest Service, USGS, and US Fish and Wildlife Service to document pika status and distribution. She also studied the impacts of Hantavirus the effects of human disturbance on rodent populations in Utah. . Her fieldwork allotted her the opportunity to discuss the importance of her research with a diverse assortment of local residents and stakeholders.

These students have demonstrated their commitment to engaging in public policy and the ESA Award will allow them to build on their experiences. This April, Anderson, Bingham, Childress, Marsden, and Varner will participate in a congressional visits event in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and co-chaired by ESA. The two-day event will focus on the need for sustained federal investment in biological research and education for key science agencies like the National Science Foundation. Joined by other scientists from across the nation, the students will also be briefed by policy leaders on current issues, including fiscal policy debates and the future of federal investment in science.

The ESA Graduate Student Policy Award is one of several ways the Society works to offer its graduate student members opportunities to gain public policy experience. The Society also provides policy training during its annual meeting and by request throughout the year. ESA graduate student members serve on several ESA standing committees, including the Public Affairs Committee, which works closely with ESA’s Washington, DC-based Public Affairs Office and focuses on activities to engage ecological scientists with policymakers and the media. Students may run for committee positions through ESA’s Student Section.