ESA announces 2015 Graduate Student Award Recipients

Graduate students from University of Illinois at Chicago, Princeton University, Oregon State University and University of Texas at Austin will speak with federal lawmakers about sustaining support for science.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 25, 2014
Contact: Terence Houston, 202-833-8773 ext. 224, gro.asenull@ecneret


WASHINGTON, DC – The Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world’s largest professional society of ecological scientists, is pleased to announce this year’s Graduate Student Policy Award winners. The award affords ESA graduate students the opportunity to participate in two days of science policy activities, including meetings with congressional offices. This year’s winners are Sydney Blankers (University of Illinois at Chicago) Cleo Chou (Princeton University), Natalie Hambalek (Oregon State University) and Emlyn Resetarits (University of Texas at Austin).

All four students demonstrate a commitment to engaging in public policy and the ESA Award allows them to build on their prior experiences. Blankers, Chou, Hambalek and Resetarits, will participate in a congressional visits event in Washington, DC, this May, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and co-chaired by ESA. The event brings together young scientists from across the country to meet with lawmakers. The scientists will highlight the benefits of biological research and education in their respective states and the nation. Participants attend sessions about how current political and fiscal issues may impact federal agencies. ESA graduate student policy awardees also meet with federal ecologists to learn about their work and that of their respective agencies.


2015 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners

Sydney Blanker

Sydney Blanker

Sydney Blankers is pursuing a Masters in urban planning and policy with a concentration in environmental planning. She studies regulatory and economic techniques for influencing development and resource use in a manner that is more in tune with urban community ecosystems. She will present her thesis on urban and natural interconnectedness at the American Planning Association National Conference in Seattle in April 2015. Through her work with the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, she has interviewed sustainable businesses and showcased their work through a marketing campaign.


Cleo Chou

Cleo Chou

Cleo Chou is expected to obtain her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology this year. Her dissertation is on carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical rainforests. She is a fellow in the Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars group, an interdisciplinary group of PhD students from energy and climate-related fields. She also serves as project coordinator and co-author of a publication on nuclear fusion technology as an energy source in the Andlinger Center Energy Technology Distillate series, geared towards policymakers as well as academics. As an undergrad at Columbia University, she planned and organized events designed to bring timely and social-relevant science to the student body and local community.


Natalie Hambalek

Natalie Hambalek

Natalie Hambalek’s policy engagement began while as an undergrad at Sonoma State University where she called on California state lawmakers to pass legislation to expand access to education at the university level, including the California Dream Act. She’s been a presenter for Discovering the Scientist Within and Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering and Math. Her honors include a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Honorable Mention. She is also a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholar. In pursuing her Ph.D. in zoology, she is studying the physiological effects of pesticides on amphibian declines and management efforts to mitigate adverse outcomes.


Emelyn Resetarits

Emlyn Resetarits

Emlyn Resetarits has collaborated with Shoal Creek Conservancy and the city of Austin watershed department to conduct a biodiversity assessment of the Shoal Creek watershed. Her Ph.D. research focuses on expanding metacommunity theory and bridging the gap between theoretical and empirical work. At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, she helped alert local government entities to a harmful algal bloom genus that produces a neurotoxin that causes amnesiac shellfish poisoning in humans. During her time as an undergrad at Columbia University, she worked as an environmental liaison between the university and student body to find sustainable solutions on campus issues. She is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.


The Graduate Student Policy Award is one of several ways ESA 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 also may run—through ESA’s Student Section—to 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. Reflections from past recipients are available on the Graduate Student Policy Award alumni network page.


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at