ESA Selects 2019 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is honored to announce this year’s Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients. This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to receive policy and communication training in Washington, D.C. before they meet lawmakers.

Ten students were selected for this year’s award: Kristina J. Bartowitz (University of Idaho), Vanessa Constant (Oregon State University), Hannah E. Correia (Auburn University), Brett Fredericksen (Ohio University), Sara Gonzalez (University of California, Santa Cruz), Emily Kiehnau (University of Oklahoma), Charlotte R. Levy (Cornell University), Timothy J. Ohlert (University of New Mexico), Christopher Kai Tokita (Princeton University) and Emory H. Wellman (East Carolina University).

Students will travel to D.C. in March to learn about the legislative process and federal science funding, to hear from ecologists working in federal agencies, and to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. This Congressional Visit Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, offers GSPA recipients the chance to interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science, in particular the biological and ecological sciences.

“Scientists who are confident in their ability to communicate with decision-makers are needed more than ever to bridge the gap between science and policy,” said ESA President Laura Huenneke. “The Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award provides real-life, hands-on experience for early career ecologists. The Society is grateful to be able to assist a number of individuals each year in advancing their effectiveness in this crucial arena.”


Kristina J. Bartowitz

Kristina Bartowitz is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Idaho, where she is studying the interactions between climate, wildfires, and ecosystems. Using ecosystem models, she is studying how repeated disturbance and climate change will impact forest composition and structure and ecosystem resilience. This knowledge will fill an important gap in our understanding of how forest ecosystems respond to multiple factors and will hopefully lead to more accurate predictions of fire extent and subsequent fire impacts on humans. In addition, her research will provide a better understanding of carbon storage capacity of U.S. forests. She is actively engaged with the wildfire community, communicating often with firefighters and land managers. Bartowitz displays a genuine interest in sharing basic and applied science with land managers to improve forest and community resilience to disturbance and climate change. She previously worked with a conservation NGO and the U.S. Forest Service in rural Washington State on post-fire forest recovery projects. Bartowitz earned an M.S. in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development and a B.S. in Zoology and Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Vanessa Constant

Vanessa Constant is a Ph.D. Candidate at Oregon State University studying coastal ecology with Dr. Sally Hacker. Her interdisciplinary research explores the role of marine subsidies to invasive beachgrasses and their effects on coastal dune shape along the U.S. Pacific Northwest coast. With a passion for understanding the coupling of human and natural systems, Constant sought opportunities in science communication and policy throughout her graduate program. Since 2016, she has served as a graduate research assistant to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, delving deeply into the role of science in policy, management, and public understanding and striving to improve these relationships through communication and collaboration. Constant graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Natural Resources and a minor in Marine Biology.


Hannah E. Correia

Hannah E. Correia is a Ph.D. candidate at Auburn University’s Department of Biological Sciences under the supervision of F. Stephen Dobson. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded her a Graduate Research Fellowship in 2015 and NSF Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide funding in 2017 to pursue collaborative research with the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research. Her dissertation focuses on studying the direct and indirect effects of climate change on terrestrial and marine animal populations and communities. Her interest lies in the formulation of novel methods to increase the accuracy of quantifying causal relationships and creating models to predict potential ecosystem variations. Correia is also interested in advancing statistical methods for modeling high-dimensional data common to ecological and climatic studies. Each year she participates in Masamu, a collaborative workshop held in southern Africa focusing on advancing mathematical sciences research with African students. Research projects in which she participated at Masamu include modeling elephant population dynamics, determining the effects of stigma on the spread of HIV/AIDS, and modeling multiple paternity among clades of animals.


Brett Fredericksen

Brett Fredericksen is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology at Ohio University. He researches the interactions of environmental stresses, like drought, and plant disease resistance, specifically in American chestnut and their disease-resistant hybrids. By looking at physiological differences in stress responses between the hybrids and pure American chestnuts, Fredericksen hopes to gain a better picture of how these hybrid chestnuts in eastern forests will function in the future. In his role as a department representative to Ohio Universities Graduate Student Senate, he works to pass resolutions that improve graduate student education at Ohio University. Additionally, he serves as one of the committee chairs for the Original Works Grant panel at the University helping to review and distribute grants to graduate students.  Fredericksen received his B.S. in Plant Biology from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.


Sara T. Gonzalez

Sara Gonzalez is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is fascinated by the ecology of coastal marine kelp, which form underwater forests, and their use as a natural resource. Her research focuses on the environmental and genetic drivers of variation in kelp morphology and production of commercially important chemicals. Previously, Gonzalez conducted research in Chile as a U.S. Fulbright Student, working with local researchers and kelp harvesters to study the ecology, perspectives, and impacts associated with artisanal kelp harvesting. In her future career, Gonzalez aspires to be a leader in ecological research of coastal ecosystems internationally, to influence strategies for natural resource management and conservation, and to engage in teaching and outreach to foster a community of diverse scholars as the next generation of biologists. She holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Cornell.


Emily L. Kiehnau

Emily Kiehnau is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Her current work utilizes a resurrection ecology approach to assess the response of the keystone herbivore Daphnia to the invasive zooplanktivore Bythotrephes longimanus (aka spiny water flea) in Lake Mendota in Madison, WI. She is conducting a variety of behavioral and morphological chemical cue studies on pre- and post-invasion Daphnia populations to assess the plastic and evolutionary response of Daphnia to the invasion of the spiny water flea. Kiehnau received a B.A. in Biology and a minor in Anthropology from Lawrence University, Appleton, WI.


Charlotte R. Levy

Charlotte Levy is a fifth-year Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University researching climate impacts of biofuel and forest mitigation projects. She is especially interested in carbon dioxide removal technologies and has worked with the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture and Carbon 180 to translate science into policy and stakeholder outreach. Before graduate school, she worked with regional land trusts in Massachusetts and with the City of Saratoga Springs in New York on community-directed climate mitigation projects. She holds a B.A. in Biology from Skidmore College.


Timothy J. Ohlert

Timothy Ohlert is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biology Department at the University of New Mexico. His research is focused on the deserts of the southwest United States and desert plant community response to extreme climate events. He currently manages experiments simulating drought in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts. Ohlert primarily conducts research at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in New Mexico where he mentors undergraduate students through the Sevilleta’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. He also conducts research at the Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER, Cedar Creek LTER, and the Granite Mountain Desert Research Center. Additionally, he is active in global collaborative research programs including the Drought Network and the Nutrient Network.  Ohlert grew up in Wisconsin and earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of Minnesota.


Christopher Kai Tokita

Chris Tokita is a third-year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, where he is funded by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. His research bridges behavioral ecology, social science, and the computational sciences: he uses computational models to understand how social groups—ants, humans, and beyond—organize themselves and exhibit emergent group properties, like the division of labor and social network structure. Prior to his graduate studies, Tokita spent two years as a Science Policy Fellow at the Institute for Defense Analysis Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. He has since spent some time in graduate school interning with his New Jersey State Assemblyman. He has also dedicated his time on campus to initiatives aimed at bolstering diversity in the sciences, which included co-organizing his department’s inaugural diversity recruitment program. He is a proud native of Los Angeles and holds a M.A. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton and a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University.


Emory H. Wellman

Emory Wellman is pursuing an M.A degree in Biology at East Carolina University. Her current research focuses on coastal ecology, and how the restoration of salt marshes and oyster reefs can be designed to enhance the delivery of ecosystem services like erosion prevention. Having received a B.A in Government at Georgetown University and having researched environmental policy as an undergraduate and in postgraduate employment, Wellman maintains a strong interest in the intersection of science and policy. She is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and hopes that her research will inform coastal management decisions. At East Carolina, Wellman serves as vice president of the Biology Graduate Student Association and she is continuing her scientific communications training by participating in the UNC Inspiring Meaningful Programs and Communication through Science (IMPACTS) program.


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



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