ESA Selects 2023 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

March 15, 2023
For immediate release

Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 224, gro.asenull@nosila  

The Ecological Society of America is honored to announce the Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) 2023 cohort. ESA’s Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) provides graduate students with science policy training and the opportunity to meet with congressional policymakers on Capitol Hill.

Award recipients receive communications training and learn about the federal budget and appropriations process, then meet with congressional decision-makers to discuss federal support of research and education in the biological sciences.

“Advocating for sustained science funding and establishing connections with legislators is an invaluable experience when laying the groundwork for a meaningful career at the science–policy interface,” said ESA President Sharon Collinge. “Many of our former award recipients have launched impressive careers in public policy, and it will be exciting to see what this year’s cohort sets out to accomplish after their experience on the Hill.” 

ESA selected 15 students to receive the award: Alicia L. Arrington-Thomas (University of Mississippi), Tira L. Beckham (North Carolina State University), Jonathan Behrens (Duke University), Elijah Catalan (University of California, Los Angeles), Scott M. Carpenter (Yale University), Chloe Y. Cho (Cornell University), Gina L. Errico (Oklahoma State University), Vanessa M. Lau (Columbia University), Shalimar G. Moreno (East Carolina University), Maria H. Park (University of Minnesota), Brandon A. Quintana (California State University, Fullerton), Sarah E. Rothman (University of Maryland), Veronica Manka’a Tangiri (Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, Lund University), Aubrey Tingler (University of Maryland) and Tatjana Washington (University of Chicago).


Visit the ESA website for more information about the 2023 GSPA cohort


Click here to see a Flickr album with photos of this year’s award winners


Alicia L. Arrington-Thomas

Alicia is a first-generation student and is currently a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Mississippi studying ecology under the guidance of Dr. Steve J. Brewer. She is also a Southeastern Conference Provost Emerging Scholar at the university and a mentor with the Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education (IMAGE) program under the direction of Ms. Jaqueline Vinson. Her research interests include understanding the reversal of mesophication using prescribed fire to restore ecosystems after a lack of the historical use of fire. She is also interested in how federal laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act pertain to essential aspects of the environment and communities during restoration. Alicia holds B.S. degrees from Tuskegee University in plant and soil science and environmental science. She has an M.S. from Southern University, master’s degrees from Virginia Tech in natural resources and in agricultural and life sciences, and a graduate certification from Virginia Tech in climate change and the environment. Alicia aims to put her learning and knowledge to work to assist communities who need to engage or are unaware of conversations about environmental justice, clean air and clean water in their communities and ecosystems.


Tira L. Beckham

Tira Beckham is a first-year Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University studying forestry and environmental resources with a concentration in natural resource policy and administration. She uses her experience working with local and state governments to inform her research in environmental justice and explore the opportunities for policy intervention in socially vulnerable communities in the face of the changing climate. Tira uses community-level research to create frameworks that address barriers to resiliency, build regional capacity, improve communication between government agencies and local communities and encourage trust between governments and communities to support those who face the greatest risk from environmental hazards. After earning her Ph.D., Tira plans on furthering her work with communities both nationally and abroad by engaging in science diplomacy to serve as an intermediary between nations, communities and governments to address international environmental dilemmas such as climate change and access to clean water.


Jonathan Behrens


Jonathan Behrens is a Ph.D. candidate in ecology at Duke University. He studies the impact of human activities, such as urbanization and chemical pollutant release, on the function and structure of freshwater ecosystems and how, in turn, alterations to these ecosystems impact human communities. He is particularly interested in engaging stakeholders within the broader community to effectively design field research and communicate results to inform water resource management decisions and policies. Prior to his graduate studies, Jonathan was a science policy fellow at the Science and Technology Policy Institute. He supported federal agencies and the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council on national assessments of drinking water contaminants and management of research funding for health and environmental sciences. Jonathan also wrote for the American Institute of Physics’ FYI: Science Policy News, covering federal science policy on Capitol Hill and federal agencies.


Scott M. Carpenter

Scott Carpenter is a Ph.D. candidate at the Yale School of the Environment working with Dr. William Lauenroth. His research focuses on the impact of environmental and land-use change for plant communities in the Intermountain West. Following his undergraduate degree at Princeton University, Scott worked as a project manager for an NSF-funded ecological study at Ol Pejeta conservancy, Kenya’s second largest cattle operation and premier rhino tourism destination. There he developed an interest in mixed-use rangelands and particularly in how increasing climate variability influences plant communities and the subsequent consequences for wildlife and livestock. His research in southwest Wyoming focuses on the impacts of shifting precipitation patterns and increased variability for big sagebrush plant communities.


Elijah Catalan

Elijah Catalan is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the Institute of Environment and Sustainability. He conducts interdisciplinary research utilizing genomic-based biodiversity monitoring and biogeochemistry to examine the impacts of restoration and conservation efforts in coastal systems. Elijah also seeks to decolonize scientific research and advance environmental justice through his work in the Center for Diverse Leadership in Science at UCLA. He is a class of 2020 alumnus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he was a double major in biology and environmental studies. After finishing his graduate program, Elijah plans to enter a research-based career where he can help protect and empower those communities disproportionately impacted by environmental conditions and underrepresented in environmental activism.


Chloe Y. Cho

Chloe Yi-Luo Cho is a first-year Ph.D. student in entomology at Cornell University and is advised by Dr. Katja Poveda. Her research focuses on the impacts of farm management and surrounding landscapes on insects and ecosystem services essential to agriculture, such as biological pest control and pollination. Currently, she is building models using long-term pest monitoring, climate and landscape data to predict pest prevalence in corn crops. Her research is funded by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and Cornell’s Presidential Life Sciences Fellowship. She is also involved in science communication, outreach and education and intends to work with growers and the general public to drive useful, inclusive and accessible science. She writes for UnScilenced, a science communication platform, and teaches science lessons at local elementary schools through GRASSHOPR (Cornell’s Graduate Student School Outreach Program). Before graduate school, Chloe worked as a science writer and project manager at The Lexicon of Sustainability, an NGO that uses evidence-based storytelling to build literacy and awareness around food and agriculture. She was also a science fellow at Pesticide Action Network, where she was a member of the International Agroecology Workgroup and Grassroots Science Hub. She earned a B.S. in genetics and plant biology, a B.A. in data science, and a minor in food systems from the University of California, Berkeley.


Gina L. Errico

Gina Errico is a second-year master’s student at Oklahoma State University. Her research investigates the effects that fungal pathogen spillover and fragmentation from coffee plantations have on tree seedlings in the tropical forests of Costa Rica. She received her B.S. in biology from The College of New Jersey and spent a year as a Green Iowa AmeriCorps member before starting her master’s degree. Interested in the intersection between human agency and ecosystem functioning, Gina spends her days as a researcher and nights as a science communicator, working to bridge the gap in ecological knowledge in society. She has spent the last few years dedicating herself to advancing ecological research and working with communities and policy makers to highlight the importance of conservation and the protection of natural areas. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in science outreach with a non-profit or government organization to continue her career advocating for science and environmental protection with stakeholders.


Vanessa M. Lau

Vanessa Lau is a master’s student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Columbia University studying ecology, evolution and conservation biology. Her current research involves investigating feedback loops between climate change and the nitrogen cycle, particularly in Arctic ecosystems. Vanessa earned her B.S. in plant sciences from Cornell University with minors in climate change and entomology. In addition to research, her interests involve promoting access in academia to underrepresented students as well as advocating for environmental justice.


Shalimar G. Moreno

Shalimar Moreno is a Ph.D. student in the integrated coastal sciences program at East Carolina University. Her dissertation research focuses on quantifying the carbonate budgets of coral reefs to understand changes due to local and global stressors. She is also applying remote sensing methods to improve shallow water coastal bathymetry mapping to use in marine spatial planning. She is passionate about science communication, biodiversity conservation and integrating science and policy for improved coastal resource management. Prior to graduate school, she worked as an environmental coordinator at Florida International University where she also received a dual B.S. in marine biology and environmental studies.


Maria H. Park

Maria Park is a Ph.D. student in the ecology, evolution and behavior program at the University of Minnesota, advised by Dr. Jeannine Cavender-Bares. Her research focuses on how tree community composition influences the growth and stress of individual trees. The goal of this research is to build an understanding of the physiological mechanisms that underpin relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. By deepening understanding of important ecological relationships and engaging in the realm of public policy, she hopes to inform sustainable conservation and restoration initiatives. Maria also approaches ecology and activism from the angle of art. As an artist–scientist, she is involved in socially-engaged art practices to co-create understanding with community members about climate change and local ecosystems. Maria is currently the graduate student representative for the NSF-funded Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve LTER site. Prior to graduate school, Maria volunteered in marine conservation and engaged in art collaborations in the Seychelles as a Michael C. Rockefeller Fellow. She graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in integrative biology and a minor in studio art.


Brandon A. Quintana

Brandon Quintana is currently a master’s student in the Department of Biological Science at California State University, Fullerton. Brandon graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in environmental studies and is also a McNair Alumni. He aims to bring light to environmental justice issues faced by historically excluded communities and to make academia a more welcoming and inclusive environment. For his thesis, he is currently studying how biomass and condition index of filter feeders are responding to different factors such as sedimentation and eelgrass in a living shoreline setting. The goal of his research is to use the results of the study to inform restoration management and better protect coastal communities while increasing habitat and biodiversity. Overall, he plans to use an interdisciplinary perspective that combines coastal restoration, education and policy to advocate for low-income communities on environmental injustice issues they are facing while concurrently preserving natural and human landscapes.


Sarah E. Rothman


Sarah Rothman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, advised by Dr. Paul Leisnham. Sarah is passionate about exploring questions related to anthropogenic impacts on ecosystem structure and function, especially where invasive species are present. While pursuing her B.A. in environmental science at Franklin & Marshall College, she interned with the National Park Service, where she monitored native and nonnative forest understory regeneration in Valley Forge National Historical Park. After a brief stint as an elementary school science teacher, Sarah earned her M.S. from Penn State’s intercollege graduate degree program in ecology, where her thesis focused on native wildflower meadow restoration on surface mines dominated by nonnative grasses. Her current research addresses complex issues of public health and environmental justice by investigating the relationship between invasive mosquitoes and vegetation across socioeconomic gradients in Baltimore and the District of Columbia. After graduating, she aims to join the public sector to employ ecological research to guide policy.


Veronica Manka’a Tangiri

Veronica Tangiri works with the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District in Virginia, where she is the water quality program manager. She has a M.S. in environmental science from Mid-Sweden University. Her second master’s degree is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Ecosystem Analysis at Lund University. Her research at Lund University focused on land-use changes in riparian ecosystems and the impact on water quality in a changing climate. Veronica contributed enormously to the establishment of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District’s water quality program, which promotes water quality awareness and science in the community. Her program won the USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service’s 2021 National Earth Team Award, after winning for the State of Virginia and the Southeast region. In addition, Veronica has a certificate in GIS in earth sciences from Umea University, Sweden. She also has a certificate in disasters and ecosystems resilience in a changing climate from the United Nation Environmental Program and the Cologne University of Applied Sciences. She holds a B.S. in geology with a minor in biology from the University of Buea, Cameroon. She is interested in learning more about policies around natural resources and earth systems and how they align with sustainable development. Veronica has a keen interest in promoting applied science. She is proud to be an ESA 2023 Graduate Student Policy Award recipient.


Aubrey Tingler

Aubrey Tingler studies environmental sciences at the University of Maryland and will be defending her thesis this spring. Her thesis examines the efficacy and sustainability of a community-led mosquito control program through socio-ecological predictors of program participation and the effect of current participation practices on invasive mosquito abundance. She is an interdisciplinary scientist who uses social and natural science methods to answer environmental questions. She holds an undergraduate degree in environmental sciences from Emory University and has worked as an environmental educator, researcher and science communicator. Aubrey got her start in fisheries science and has a particular interest in coastal, riverine and aquatic systems. She currently works as a Maryland Sea Grant State Science and Policy Fellow at the Maryland Department of the Environment and is interested in building a career around how applied science can be used to answer critical policy questions, especially in the sphere of climate resilience, mitigation and adaptation in urban environments.


Tatjana M. Washington

Tatjana (Tati) Washington is a climate change-focused ecologist whose mission is to understand how climate change affects wildlife’s physiological and behavioral stress responses and environmental justice policy. Tati is presently a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, where the majority of her research is focused on the impact of climate change on bird nest-building behavior in the Indian Himalayas. Growing up surrounded by farmland and longleaf pine forests in South Carolina, she always had a great appreciation of the beauty nature has to offer. She completed an M.S. in environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts and a B.S. in biology with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies at The College of Charleston in South Carolina. She lives for thrill-packed outdoor adventures, insightful traveling, sports talk and community service activities.



The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the worlds 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

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