Two UNM students selected as ESA Graduate Student Policy Award recipients

by the University of New Mexico
February 21, 2022

Two students from The University of New Mexico have been named to participate in the Ecological Society of America (ESA) 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.

Benjamin Gerstner is a Ph.D. candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at UNM. Benjamin’s research focuses on the evolution of polyploid plants, employing both theoretical modeling and empirical experiments.

“I study the impacts of drought on ecosystems in New Mexico in order to promote resiliency to climate change disturbance,” Miller explained. “In particular, I look at how changes in precipitation and temperature alters and disrupts interactions between plants and their microbial communities to develop strategies for drought management. I am able to take advantage of long term datasets and large-scale field experiments at UNM’s Sevilleta LTER to ask big questions about the impacts of climate change in NM.”

“I study polyploid plant evolution through theory and empirical experiments. I identify as an evolutionary biologist that works with plants. I’m broadly interested in evolution across domains and learning insights from novel applications of ‘core’ evolutionary principles,” Gerstner said.

Cassandra Miller is a Ph.D. student at UNM. Miller studies how climate change disrupts traditional plant-microbe interactions and the subsequent impacts on carbon cycling in dryland ecosystems. 

The 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.

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