ESA Selects 2022 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients
February 3, 2022
For Immediate Release
Contact: Alison Mize, gro.asenull@nosila
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is honored to announce the Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) 2022 cohort. This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to participate in a virtual Congressional Visits Day.
These students learn about the legislative process and federal science funding before meeting virtually with their Members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological and ecological sciences. Additionally, GSPA recipients will explore policy career options. Ecologists who work in federal agencies will share their career paths and how a scientific background can be applied to informing policy.
“It is very rewarding and encouraging to see our ESA graduate students interested in the science-policy interface and to hear directly from decision makers the importance of receiving critical information on the ecological systems that their constituents are interested in. The valuable, hands-on experience this ESA award provides these young ecologists in essential science communication and listening skills will enable them to successfully engage in the policy realm,” said ESA President Dennis Ojima.
ESA selected 44 students to receive the award: Amanda Alva (Auburn University), Isabella Betancourt S. (Stony Brook University), Ian J. Brackett (Ohio State University), Jessica A. Bryzek (West Virginia University), Abigail J. Costigan (Stony Brook University), Amelia-Juliette C. Demery (Cornell University), Julie Donohue (Western Colorado University), Anastasia Dulskiy (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Sarah Gao (University of San Francisco), Benjamin Gerstner (University of New Mexico), Devon Gorbey (University at Buffalo), Jessica E. Griffin (University of California, Davis and San Diego State University), Elijah Hall (University of California, Riverside), Andrew M. Hoyt (Trent University), Kristen M. Jovanelly (Dartmouth College), Amanda L. Komasinski (University of Georgia), Katie LaPlante-Harris (University of Missouri), Abigail Lewis (Virginia Tech), Samuel A. Mahanes (University of California, Irvine), Zachary Malone (University of California, Merced), Claudia I. Mazur (Boston University), Kelly B. McCrum (University of Georgia), Cassandra Maria Luz Miller (University of New Mexico), Benjamin Moffat (University of Miami), Tim D. Morris (State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry), W. Kody Muhic (Old Dominion University), Jessica G. Murray (Utah State University), Laura P. Nicholson (University of Florida), Rounak Patra (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), Rachel E. Pausch (UC Santa Cruz), Samuel P. Reed (University of Minnesota), Mae Rennick (University of California, Santa Barbara), D’amy Steward (University of Guam), Colin P. Sweeney (The Ohio State University), Corinne Sweeney (University of Georgai), Krti Tallam (Stanford University), Tara Ursell (University of California, Davis), Leena L. Vilonen (Colorado State University), Lynn Von Hagen (Auburn University), Heidi R. Waite (University of California, Irvine), Matthew Walter (University of Delaware), Tanner A. Waters (University of California, Los Angeles), Nicholas Wright-Osment (University of Alabama), and Sophie Zhu (University of California, Davis).
Click here to see a Flickr album with photos of this year’s award winners.
Amanda Alva is a second-year M.S. student at Auburn University studying conservation policy with Dr. Kelly Dunning. Her research is centered around the premise of bipartisanship for multiple coral reef conservation bills in Congress and why they have been successful. She received her B.S. in Marine and Freshwater Science from the University of Texas at Austin. Amanda has work experience from the Texas Water Development Board, Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. She is interested in developing a career in making the governance and management of natural resources more efficient and sustainable.
Isabella Betancourt S.
Isabella Betancourt is a student in the Master of Marine Conservation and Policy program in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York. She is interested in the link between science and policy and hopes to work as a science policy advisor after earning her master’s degree. She earned a B.S. in marine sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey with her area of study focusing on issues related to the marine environment and combating the threats from climate change through effective policies. Betancourtwas born and raised in Colombia and is interested in serving as an example to minorities to show them that it is possible to become a scientist and make a difference in the field. For her master’s thesis, she will be going to Costa Rica in the summer of 2022 to conduct research for a community-driven turtle conservation organization. She will collect and analyze data, learning the effects of climate change on such organisms and collaborating with the government and institutions to drive change in the policy sector. Finally, she will gain valuable experience in communicating science to a non-scientific audience in both English and Spanish.
Ian J. Brackett
Ian Brackett is in the third year of his M.S. in evolution, ecology, and organismal biology while also beginning a dual degree with a Master of Public Administration at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. His interests in science and policy stem from his experiences in academia, industry and the nonprofit world. He worked in the biotech industry before graduate school and volunteers as a board member of an environmental nonprofit, the John Sage Foundation. Both experiences have given him a perspective on how science is applied in contexts outside of academia. Since starting graduate school, Ian has worked on research projects ranging from the influence of invasive species on environmental microbiomes, the interaction between insect hosts and their bacterial symbionts, to morphological studies of soil mites. After completing his two degrees, Brackett hopes to integrate his scientific and policy knowledge with his experiences in industry and nonprofits to develop policies that work with diverse stakeholders to preserve the environment.
Jessica A. Bryzek
Jessica Bryzek is a second year M.S. student at West Virginia University earning her degree in wildlife and fisheries resources. Her research delves into the role woody vegetation plays in restored wetland ecosystems. She argues for the potential of data-driven performance standards to bridge the science–practice–policy divide of wetland mitigation while also providing an entrance into resilient ecosystems by transforming science into policy and policy into practice. Jessica is more broadly interested in understanding the relationship between the natural and built environments. She aspires for a career advocating for adoption of a new ecological paradigm that recognizes the Rights of Nature, a growing movement that realizes the fundamental rights of ecosystems and species to exist. She earned her B.S. in biology from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, in 2018. Prior to attending graduate school, she completed an AmeriCorps service term with Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area, then worked in the non-profit sector in aquatic resource conservation with Trout Unlimited in West Virginia.
Abigail J. Costigan
Abigail Costigan is a master’s student at SUNY Stony Brook studying marine conservation and policy. Her current research focuses on marine protected area management and policy internationally as well as coastal habitat restoration. She is interested in how human activities influence the marine environment, and what efforts are successful in mitigating harmful effects, increasing biodiversity and promoting sustainable use. Prior to entering graduate school, Costigan conducted field work for Mass Audubon focused on horseshoe crabs, worked at the Center for Coastal Studies teaching marine education and was a fisheries observer. She received a B.S. from St. Lawrence University in 2019 with a major in conservation biology and a dual minor in Asian and outdoor studies.
Amelia-Juliette C. Demery
Amelia-Juliette Demery is a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University. She received her M.S. in evolutionary biology at San Diego State University under the mentorship of Kevin Burns, studying macroevolutionary patterns of avian beak morphology in tanagers, the largest clade of Neotropical songbirds, in museum collections across the United States. Wanting to study “the other side of the coin”, Demery switched to genomics and transcriptomics of bare-part color at Cornell. Currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Fuller lab under the mentorship of Irby Lovette, she studies gene expression of color-changing beaks and the macroevolutionary patterns of iris color in birds. A Sloan Fellow and Cornell Women Leaders in Sustainability Fellow, Demery incorporates her skills in multi-faceted perception and analysis towards studying university air travel patterns before and after COVID-19 lockdowns in order to design policies that can promote more sustainable carbon footprints among academic communities.
Julie Donohue is a M.S. in ecology and conservation student working in Dr. Alexander’s lab in the Clark School of Environment and Sustainability at Western Colorado University. Her research investigates the effects of environmental variation on the floral nutrient resources of the endangered Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, Clossiana improba acrocnema. Her work supplements 20 years of annual Fish and Wildlife Service population surveys and contributes to the Endangered Species Act 5-Year Review by providing information on how climate change affects this alpine butterfly and its habitat. Her work will help identify the limits of this narrowly endemic butterfly and inform its conservation and restoration. Donohue looks forward to working at the intersection of science, policy and outreach to achieve conservation solutions.
Anastasia Dulskiy is a master’s student in the Environment, Ecology and Energy Program (E3P) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the lab of Dr. Karl Castillo. Her research focuses on how environmental variables influence the microbial ecology of temperate corals on the North Carolina coast. Passionate about sustainability, Anastasia currently serves as the Director of Environmental Affairs for Graduate and Professional Student Government at UNC, where she collaborates with environmental groups on campus to advance university sustainability efforts. Prior to beginning her master’s degree, she earned a B.A. in biology and music from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, and worked and studied in Germany for eight months as a fellow with the U.S. State Department through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals.
Sarah Gao is a second-year master’s student in the Department of Biology at the University of San Francisco. Her research centers around understanding how moisture stress exacerbated by climate change affects microbes and their ability to cycle nutrients in organic farm soil. Gao earned her Bachelor of Humanities and Arts from Carnegie Mellon University in Industrial Design and Psychology and has years of experience working as a professional digital designer, illustrator and artist. At a broader level, she is interested in advancing equitable, resilient and science-based policies by bridging the gap between researchers, policymakers and the general public. In her spare time, she spearheads projects in science communication, education and advocacy, often using the creative arts to connect people with the extraordinary biological world.
Benjamin Gerstner is a Ph.D. candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico (UNM), advised by Dr. Ken Whitney. Benjamin’s research focuses on the evolution of polyploid plants, employing both theoretical modeling and empirical experiments. Their interest in science policy has grown from a desire to contribute to the understanding and acceptance of science by the general public. From observing the complete denial of science by some, to the blind following of the science omnibus by others, Benjamin aims to sift through the nuances and aid in clear and accessible science communication and science policy implementation. They hold a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Rochester and serve as the Strategic Support Chair for the UNM Graduate and Professional Student Association’s executive team.
Devon Gorbey is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University at Buffalo. Her dissertation research explores the response of Arctic precipitation to warmer conditions in the present and in the past. To generate these paleoclimate records, Gorbey measures the stable isotopic composition of ancient plants preserved in lake sediment. Gorbey is also passionate about developing and communicating climate change policy. After graduation, Gorbey aims to pursue a career that lies at the intersection of climate change research and science policy. Before pursuing her Ph.D., Gorbey earned a B.S. in Geology and Environmental Geosciences at Lafayette College and worked as an environmental consultant.
Jessica E. Griffin
Jessica Griffin is a Ph.D. candidate in marine ecology at the University of California, Davis and San Diego State University. Her research focuses on the effects of invasive species, climate change and eutrophication on species interactions in California seagrass beds. Jessica is also part of a multi-institution working group called Building Women Leadership at Field Stations and Marine Laboratories, through which she is a co-author on a book chapter about the experiences of students in field-based ecological research settings. Her research has received funding from the National Science Foundation; the CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology; and the University of California, Davis. Jessica plans to pursue a career in conservation and sustainable management of coastal marine ecosystems. She received her Bachelor’s degree in ecology & evolutionary biology and environmental science from the University of Connecticut.
Elijah Hall is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology Department at the University of California, Riverside in Nicole Rafferty’s lab. He studies pollination ecology in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. His current research is investigating how climate change-induced shifts in phenology alter pollination and plant–pollinator community dynamics. Hall is interested in working to advance science and policy at the interface of wild and agricultural systems. Outside of research, he is active in community outreach and science engagement with the UCR Center for Conservation Biology and is an alumnus of UCR’s Science to Policy Certificate Program. Hall earned a B.S. with distinction in biology from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
Andrew M. Hoyt
Andrew Hoyt is a first-year master’s student in history at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Hoyt’s research focuses on the political and technical development of ecological restoration in the midwestern United States during the second half of the twentieth century. Through his research, he examines the historical relationship between ecology and state and federal environmental policy. He believes this work is crucial to informing thoughtful and effective science policy today. Before enrolling in graduate school, Hoyt developed utility and municipal energy-efficiency programming at a nonprofit in Minnesota and volunteered as an organizer and lobbyist for climate policy in the state. Hoyt graduated magna cum laude from Carleton College with a B.A. in History.
Kristen M. Jovanelly
Kristen Jovanelly is a Ph.D. student in the Ecology, Evolution, Environment and Society Program at Dartmouth College. Kristen works in the Ong Agroecology Lab studying patterns and scale of social–ecological changes in agricultural production following transitions to new systems, and how past biological, structural and social legacies interact with systems of agriculture that newly integrate woody species. Kristen is interested in advancing interdisciplinary science that can inform policy surrounding conservation, restoration and improved land management actions with the perspectives of practitioners stewarding land. She earned a Master of Forestry from the Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment and a B.S. from St. Lawrence University. Prior to and throughout her graduate studies, Kristen worked as a farmer, as an educator and with the U.S. Forest Service.
Amanda L. Komasinski
Amanda Komasinski is a second-year M.S. student in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia. She is a member of Dr. Jesse Abrams’ Environmental Governance and Policy Lab, and her research explores how major shifts in the relationship between science and politics can have an impact on a local scale. Specifically, she is investigating the decline of the seven Department of Energy National Environmental Research Parks as cases of the institutional impacts of changing science policy. Komasinski plans to continue her career in science policy and hopes to focus on improving relationships between scientists and decision-makers. Before graduate school, Komasinski earned a B.S. with highest distinction from Purdue University, where she majored in ecology, evolution, and environmental biology and minored in environmental politics and policy.
Katie LaPlante-Harris is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri working with advisor Dr. Deborah Finke. She is currently studying the habitat preferences of female monarch butterflies. More specifically, she examines how landscape and community context affect monarch butterfly egg-laying choices. She received her M.S. degree in environmental science and policy from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. Her thesis was focused on assessing spider species diversity in an estuarine research reserve. LaPlante-Harris is passionate about the conservation of at-risk insect species and the use of effective science communication in broadening public awareness about their plight. She seeks a career in science policy where she can advocate for ecological research funding.
Abby Lewis is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Cayelan Carey’s lab at Virginia Tech. Her research interests are broadly centered in ecosystem science and ecological forecasting, with the goal of helping to understand, mitigate and prevent pressing environmental concerns. For her dissertation, Abby is using a wide range of methods—from sediment incubations to whole-ecosystem experiments and global data analyses—to understand how freshwater ecosystems are changing over time. In particular, Abby aims to understand how declining oxygen concentrations in lakes and reservoirs may affect the important role that these ecosystems play in the global carbon cycle. Abby’s participation in the 2022 GSPA cohort draws from an extensive background in translational ecology: she has given multiple invited public talks about her research, received a grant from the American Geophysical Union for science outreach, and worked with the Virginia Scientist-Community Interface to provide evidence that can inform environmental policy. Abby’s research is supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and ICTAS Doctoral Scholarship at Virginia Tech.
Samuel A. Mahanes
Samuel Mahanes is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. He graduated from the University of Miami with a B.S. in biology and minors in chemistry and international studies. After graduating, he studied the ecological impact of nanoparticles in wetlands at Duke University and the effects of climate change on pine forests at the Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center. His current research focuses on how climate change and invasive species affect coastal marine ecosystems. Recent projects include two studies on how seaweeds affect environmental conditions and ecosystem function on the Alaskan coast and a review on invasive species in high-latitude marine ecosystems. He attributes his interest in policy to a lifetime of commutes spent listening to NPR.
Zachary Malone is a second-year Ph.D. student in Environmental Systems at the University of California, Merced. His research investigates the use of organic matter amendments, such as compost, in urban soil systems to improve soil health. He is particularly interested in using these amendments to improve carbon storage and inform city and regional climate action plans by using these amendments and soil as a carbon sequestration technique. Zachary earned his B.S. in Earth System Science from the University of California, Merced, while also working as a wilderness education ranger for Yosemite National Park. He originally hails from the Sacramento area.
Claudia I. Mazur
Claudia Mazur is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Earth & Environment at Boston University. She is a member of the Fulweiler Lab where she studies the impact of human activities on coastal biogeochemical cycling. For her dissertation, Claudia is studying how changes in water column oxygen and pH might alter nutrient cycling pathways and greenhouse gas fluxes in coastal sediments. Claudia is a Margaret A. Davidson Fellow with the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve where she helps the Reserve and local community better understand the impact of low pH conditions on future water quality. Claudia’s goal is to become a coastal manager where she will play a key role in developing sustainable, resilient and equitable coastal cities. Claudia earned her B.A. in geology with a minor in coastal and marine Science from Mount Holyoke College.
Kelly B. McCrum
KB McCrum is a third-year Ph.D. student in plant biology at the University of Georgia. Her dissertation research focuses on how plant-microbe interactions affect range dynamics under climate change. She studies a southeastern native forb to investigate how plant-microbe interactions are locally adapted, and how those associations might be altered in novel environmental conditions. She is involved in science communication and science policy organizations on campus, and is passionate about sparking others’ curiosity in the natural world. Prior to graduate school, KB worked as a technician in a hematology-oncology lab, and she received her B.S. in biology from Duke University.
Cassandra Maria Luz Miller
Cassandra Miller is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico. She conducts ecological research at the Sevilleta LTER, located in central New Mexico, under the guidance of Dr. Jennifer Rudgers and Dr. Lee Taylor. Miller studies how climate change disrupts traditional plant-microbe interactions and the subsequent impacts on carbon cycling in dryland ecosystems. Her research is supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and the UNM Regents’ Winrock Fellowship. She serves on the City of Albuquerque’s Climate Action Plan Task Force to enact local legislation. Prior to pursuing graduate school, Miller taught environmental science in Namibia, worked in water science and policy in California as a CivicSpark Fellow, and gained research experience at Los Alamos National Laboratories. She holds a B.A. in biology with a concentration in environmental studies from Grinnell College in Iowa. Born and raised in northern New Mexico, she is proud to have found her way back to the state and is grateful for the opportunity to study ways to promote ecosystem resiliency in the land that she and her family are deeply connected to.
Benjamin T. Moffat
Ben Moffat is a Master of Professional Science student in the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. He studies fisheries management and conservation and has contributed to several research projects within the field. Moffat’s interest in policy stems from his training in natural resource management, during which he noticed a reoccurring theme of regulations that did not reflect current scientific knowledge. He is an intern at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center where he is creating a computer model that will lend insight into the distribution of highly migratory species in the Atlantic Ocean. Moffat serves as an active Senator in the Graduate Student Association, where he chairs the academic relations committee. He is also Vice President of the Marine Science Graduate Student Organization. Moffat holds a B.A. in biology from the University of Vermont.
Tim D. Morris
Tim Morris is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He currently conducts research in Dr. Melissa Fierke’s lab, focusing on the impacts of biological control agents introduced to manage the invasive emerald ash borer. His current studies include examining the dispersal of biocontrol agents across an urban gradient, a life table assessment of emerald ash borer populations and the regeneration of forests in the aftermath of invasion. Morris earned a B.S. in environmental studies and a B.A. in geological sciences from Binghamton University.
Kody Muhic is an M.S. student in the Biological Sciences Department at Old Dominion University. His research is focused on quantifying environmental degradation in urban watersheds using benthic invertebrates as indicators of anthropogenic stress. His professional interest in science policy dates to his early work with Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation where he helped foster a catalog of the distribution and life histories of rare plants and animals across the state. Before graduate school, he spent time in Costa Rica gauging present levels of amphibian and reptile diversity. In the summer of 2021, between periods of graduate field research, he worked with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources monitoring breeding populations of federally threatened waterbirds on the barrier islands off the coast of Virginia. Kody hails from the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula near the Chesapeake Bay. He completed his B.S. in biology at Belmont University.
Jessica G. Murray
Jessica Murray is a Ph.D. candidate in ecology at Utah State University mentored by Dr. Bonnie Waring and Dr. John Stark. Her research investigates carbon cycling in tropical soils in the context of climate change. She studies the factors controlling canopy soil development and decomposition as well as the effects of warming on soil carbon losses in the páramo ecosystem. Her current work in the páramo of Chirripó National Park is supported by a Fulbright Scholarship in collaboration with Dr. Andrea Vincent at the University of Costa Rica. Murray is passionate about climate change action and education and the need for more diverse perspectives in the pursuit of climate solutions. She has served twice as a mentor for the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-LSAMP REU) in Costa Rica and regularly engages in outreach both in Utah and Costa Rica through community talks and school visits. She has served as the USU Graduate Director, president of the USU Biology Graduate Student Association, and graduate representative for the USU Biology DEI Committee. Before graduate school, she earned a B.S. from the University of North Georgia where she majored in biology and minored in Appalachian studies.
Laura P. Nicholson
Laura Nicholson is an M.S. student in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, co-advised by Dr. Holly Ober and Dr. Liz Braun de Torrez. Her research primarily focuses on restoration ecology and how human-impacted landscapes affect wildlife communities. Her thesis specifically explores the impacts of hydrologic restoration on the bat community of southwest Florida, with particular emphasis on the Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus). Outside of her research, she also serves as a graduate student mentor for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, which works to provide research opportunities and training to undergraduates interested in conservation as well as promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the field. Prior to starting her master’s degree, she also completed a Wagoner Fellowship exploring impacts of land-use change on pollinator communities in the coastal lowlands of Ecuador. She received her B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Rice University in Houston, Texas, in 2018. During her free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors, distance running, crocheting, baking and playing with her dog, Ginny.
Rounak Patra is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Biosystem Engineering and Soil Science Department. He investigates the role of long-term conservation agricultural practices in subsoil C storage under the joint supervision of Dr. Sindhu Jagadamma and Dr. Debasish Saha. He is passionate about capturing excess atmospheric carbon through practical agricultural solutions, and he plans to use his academic training to develop effective communication strategies for relaying scientific knowledge to policymakers and local stakeholders. Before attending graduate school, Rounak worked under the supervision of Dr. Robert John Chandran to investigate the decline in plant diversity and its socio-economic consequences in the foothills of the Sikkim Himalayan region. He graduated from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata with a master’s degree in life sciences. He grew up in Kolkata, and he has family roots in West Bengal, India.
Rachel E. Pausch
Rachel Pausch is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is also working towards a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science and Policy, researching coastal ecosystem restoration and compensatory mitigation. She served as the co-chair of the Monterey Bay Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education and is on the UCSC Committee on Planning and Budget. She is advised by Pete Raimondi and supported by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She earned her B.S. at the University of Miami, majoring in marine science, biology, and geology, and spent the first part of her career monitoring threatened coral populations. Her participation with a coordinated agency response to severe coral bleaching events inspired her to pursue a graduate degree and career in applied ecology and policy.
Samuel P. Reed
Sam Reed is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota and is advised by Dr. Peter Reich and Dr. Lee Frelich. His dissertation focuses on how multiple disturbances (such as fires, windstorms, herbivores and invasive species) can interact and change a forest ecosystem. As the planet warms, he wants to support agencies, municipalities and management groups in their planning and responses to multiple disturbances and disasters. His goal is to help protect vulnerable people and the ecosystems that we all depend on. Outside of research, Sam works to support a more resilient and inclusive graduate student community through the Natural Resources Association of Graduate Students. He received a B.S. in Environmental Science from Ohio State, a Graduate Research Fellowship from the NSF and the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Minnesota. Sam is (relatively) active on Twitter @SamPowersReed.
Mae Rennick is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a proud member of the Froehlich Lab where her research exists at the nexus of social science, policy and ecology. Rennick’s work centers on marine aquaculture, with a particular interest in the role of marine aquaculture in developing sustainable long-term food security systems and initiatives, in addition to identifying pathways to correct food and nutritional inequities in the United States by improving seafood accessibility. Through her work (both inside and outside of the lab), Rennick prioritizes the involvement of young women in science through activism, community outreach and education. She is additionally involved in several projects which champion diversity, equity and inclusion within emerging aquaculture developments in the state.
D’amy Steward is a first-year master’s student in biology at the University of Guam under the supervision of Dr. Laurie Raymundo and Dr. Lyza Johnston. D’amy’s research focuses on coral reef restoration through sexual propagation of corals and novel settlement substrate for coral larvae. The goal of this project is to understand how ecological processes and resilience influence coral restoration with sexually propagated corals. Her research is funded by the NOAA Ruth Gates Coral Restoration and Innovation Grant awarded to Dr. Johnston in Saipan. Federal policy and research are intrinsically linked — absent government support and funding, many important research projects would not be possible. D’amy seeks to bridge the two. A graduate of Duke University, D’amy double majored in biology and environmental science with concentrations in ecology and marine science and conservation. D’amy is concurrently working with NOAA on a project quantifying the benthic footprint of artificial reefs. In addition to her research, she is a mentor with Our Future is Science, providing leadership and mentorship to spark curiosity and passion at the intersection of science and social justice for students from underrepresented communities.
Colin P. Sweeney
Colin Sweeney is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University in Dr. Marta Jarzyna’s lab. He studies patterns of avian functional and species diversity using light detecting and ranging (LiDAR) data, combined with publicly available and citizen science data, at large spatial scales. In particular, he is interested in examining the role that various measures of 3D forest structure and configuration have on patterns of avian biodiversity. Prior to his graduate work at Ohio State, he worked in science communication at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He is passionate about increasing public access to science and education, as well as more effectively leveraging scientific research in shaping public policy at local levels towards conservation goals. Sweeney is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and earned his B.S. in biology and history from The College of William and Mary in Virginia.
Corinne M. Sweeney
Corinne Sweeney is a second-year master’s student in ecology at the University of Georgia studying the movement of radioactive contaminants in forest environments. Her work under Dr. Krista Capps and Dr. Stacey Lance is conducted at and funded by the Savannah River Site, a former Department of Energy nuclear weapons production site located in Aiken, South Carolina. She hopes to better the understanding of radionuclide contamination from nuclear weapons testing and nuclear energy production. She has a broad interest in ecotoxicology and in working with policymakers to prevent further environmental contamination. After receiving her B.S. in ecology and biology at the University of Georgia, Corinne worked at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab studying toxins and harmful algal blooms in marine environments. Corinne is passionate about science communication and environmental justice, working with the Athens Science Observer as a writer and editor. Ultimately, Corinne hopes to work with the EPA to further improve regulations regarding environmental contaminants.
Krti Tallam is a second-year Ph.D. student with Stanford University. Krti is interested in the transmission dynamics of environmental diseases as they relate to climate and anthropogenic stressors. As a Fulbright Scholar, Krti conducted analyses on the responses of dengue fever to climatic stressors off the coast of the Bay of Bengal, in India. Currently, Krti works with Stanford University to understand the role of seagrass wasting disease in environmental reservoirs, and leads the pursuit of multiple machine learning based analyses of seagrass wasting disease spatial transmission dynamics. At Stanford, Krti serves as one of the few trans-disciplinary experts for planetary health topics, via machine learning and computer vision, data science, environmental policy and science communication. As a STEM innovator and a first-generation woman of color, Krti is proud to be an ESA 2022 Graduate Student Policy Award recipient and representative!
Tara Ursell is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology Graduate Group and a graduate of the M.S. program in Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on post-wildfire forest dynamics and management in the Sierra Nevada, California, specifically on identifying cost-effective practices to restore and increase the long-term resilience of areas affected by wildfire. Her research interests are highly informed by her previous work for California State Parks, where she worked on climate adaptation strategies and other statewide resource management issues. Her passion is in bringing science-based information to address land management questions, and she hopes to continue to work at the intersection of science, policy, and practice. Tara previously obtained a Master of Environmental Science degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a B.A. in environmental analysis and history at Pomona College.
Leena L. Vilonen
Leena Vilonen is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate and a USDA NIFA Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Colorado State University. Her research aims to understand how global change drivers, such as drought, impact the soil microbial community in function and structure in grasslands. Vilonen is passionate about the intersection of climate change research and policy and hopes to become a science policy advisor after she earns her Ph.D. Vilonen graduated from Northwestern University with degrees in biology and environmental science.
Lynn Von Hagen
Lynn Von Hagen is a Ph.D. candidate and Presidential Research Fellow at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in the lab of Dr. Chris Lepczyk. She received her B.S. in zoology and M.S. in biology. Her dissertation research has taken her to Kenya to work on ways to mitigate conflicts between African savannah elephants, local villagers and stakeholders. This work lies at the intersection of sociology, animal behavior and conservation management and planning. Her interest in policy will focus on finding ways to assist in amplifying the voices of Indigenous and local people and other underrepresented groups in conservation planning, research and policy decisions. She is a proud supporter of women in STEM and non-traditional students (of which she is both). She hopes to use her combined experiences and training after graduation to serve in a role that will help to address the dual biodiversity and climate crises.
Heidi R. Waite
Heidi R. Waite is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate and Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of California, Irvine. Heidi’s research focuses on understanding the impacts of climate change on coastal marine organisms across their life cycles. Her interest in policy was sparked while completing her master’s degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford. Now, during her Ph.D., Heidi continues to explore the intersection of policy and science. In the summer 2021, Heidi interned with California’s Ocean Science Trust – a non-profit boundary organization that provides evidence-based information to decisionmakers – as a Presidential Graduate Opportunities for Leadership Development (GOLD) Fellow. She gained insight about the dynamics between scientists, nonprofits, and policymakers while building her network within the science policy community in California. Heidi also loves sharing science with non-scientist audiences as a writer, and now, as an editor for The Loh Down on Science – an NPR show that translates the latest research in fun, quick radio segments. She is excited to gain knowledge of the inner working of Capitol Hill while also refining her communication repertoire and expanding her network nationwide. Heidi hopes to pursue a career in policy after completing her Ph.D., helping to contribute to evidence-based science policy around environmental topics such as climate change.
Matthew Walter is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware working in the lab of Dr. Pinki Mondal. With fellowship funding from the NASA Delaware Space Grant, he utilizes satellite and aerial remote sensing data to study the human impact on built and natural environments. His dissertation work is centered on using satellite imagery to quantify urban vegetation such as parks and street trees and measure the accessibility of these green spaces to vulnerable populations. He also works on other research projects covering topics such as invasive species mapping and the effect of saltwater intrusion on coastal farming. After completing his Ph.D., Matthew hopes to utilize geographic data science methods to inform sustainable land-use planning decisions.
Tanner A. Waters
Tanner Waters (he/him) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. His graduate research focuses on using the emerging technique of environmental DNA metabarcoding to assess the impact of coastal restoration and conservation efforts. Tanner received a B.S. in environmental science, A.B. in earth and ocean science and minor in biology from Duke University. Tanner is also a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, Switzer Foundation Fellow, Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellow, Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Fellow, and Center for Diverse Leadership in Science Fellow.
Nick Wright-Osment is a second-year M.S. student from Columbia, Missouri, in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Advised by Dr. Gregory Starr, his research focuses on plant ecophysiology with an emphasis on carbon dynamics from the individual to the ecosystem scale. He received his B.S. in biological sciences and his B.A. in political science from the University of Alabama in May of 2021. Nick is highly interested in the intersection of biology and policy in developing strategies to mitigate global climate change. He hopes to apply his accumulated knowledge to develop novel policy frameworks and biological solutions to the climate crisis.
Sophie Zhu is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Group in Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis. She works in the Shapiro lab studying zoonotic food and waterborne protozoan pathogens, specifically Toxoplasma gondii. Zhu’s dissertation research investigates risk factors and impacts of oocyst-borne T. gondii infections in coastal California wildlife and vulnerable South American human populations. Zhu is broadly interested in the impact of anthropogenic change on infectious disease emergence and transmission. Her interest in science policy is motivated by a general desire to improve literacy and interest in science, as well as to be able to translate research into achievable, applied policies at all levels. Zhu is from Bozeman, Montana, and obtained her B.S. in animal science at Cornell University. Prior to attending graduate school, Zhu was a research technician at the Cornell University Wildlife Health Lab and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Global Health Program.
The Ecological Society of America, 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 9,000 member Society publishes five 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 https://www.esa.org