Meet this year’s ESA Grad Student Policy Awardees

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs

Threatened and endangered species, alternative energy, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, emerging diseases and climate change—these are all areas in which members of the Ecological Society of America work.  Our members are researchers, educators, natural resource managers and students and work in academia, government and the private sector.  This community of 10,000 shares a strong passion for the environment—to better understand it in order to better manage our resources and take proactive steps to change undesirable trends.  As past ESA President Jerry Franklin noted in his plenary at last summer’s ESA Annual Meeting, engaging with others—policy makers, managers, fellow citizens—is an essential part of sharing ecological information.

ESA, which is headquartered in Washington, DC, works to give the ecological community a voice at the federal level through its public policy initiatives.  It also looks for opportunities to support young ecologists’ interest in policy.  One way is through the Society’s annual Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA).  The competitive award brings graduate students to the nation’s capital to participate in two days of science policy activities, including meetings with congressional offices and briefings with policy experts on how current political and fiscal issues may impact the work of federal agencies and support of ecological research.

Since 2007, over 20 ESA graduate students have received the GSPA.  Some have gone on to careers that routinely involve policy or public outreach while others have obtained Fellowships through the American Association for the Advancement of Science to work for agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Forest Service.

It is always exciting each year to meet the new group of GSPA winners and to see them in action later in the spring when they will head to Capitol Hill to bring their voices to the discussion of national priorities.  As current ESA President Scott Collins notes in a recent BioScience column, “Congress makes a lot of decisions about ecology, and scientists need to be at the table when decisions are made.”

This year’s ESA GSPA winners are:

Matthew Berg, Texas A&M University

Lindsay Deel, West Virginia University

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, Boston University

Carlos Silva, University of Maryland

As a Ph.D. student in ecohydrology, Matthew Berg has worked with stakeholders representing multiple interests to improve water quality for an interagency priority watershed in central Texas, coordinated a symposium that brought together speakers from academia and federal agencies to discuss pertinent issues in ecology and sought out opportunities to share ecological information with peers and with local elementary schools.

Lindsey Deel, whose dissertation project is supported by an Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowship, is helping develop new satellite imagery-based measurements to track nutrient pollution from forested areas within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   As a Ph.D. student focused on environmental geography, she’s worked closely with various federal and local government agencies on environmental problems.

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie is researching the long-term impacts of climate change on plant communities. Her work will help develop a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Acadia National Park in Maine to equip park managers with information to mitigate the impacts of climate change.  Caitlin has interned with the Sierra Club Great Lakes office where she helped prepare environmental policy materials and holds an undergraduate degree in environmental science and public policy.

Carlos Silva’s Ph.D. research focuses on remote sensing of tropical rainforest structure and dynamics.  With a master’s and undergraduate training in economics and public policy, Silva worked for Industrial Economics, Inc. where he conducted analyses of critical habitat designations for the Fish and Wildlife Service and assisted the National Park Service with surveys to measure public willingness to pay for visibility improvements in national parks.

Congrats to Matt, Lindsay, Caitlin and Carlos–we look forward to seeing you in Washington, DC on April 10 and 11!