ESA meeting diverse students where they are: ESA at SACNAS and MANRRS

Last month, Ecological Society of America leaders and staff were among the 6,000+ attendees for the National Diversity in STEAM conference, hosted by SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

ESA President Sharon Collinge, Diversity Committee Chair Carmen Cid, Diversity Committee member Conchi Rodriguez Fourquet, Professional Programs Coordinator Sandra Del Rio, and Society Programs Director Adrienne Sponberg staffed ESA’s booth at the graduate school and career fair. 

Left: Sharon Collinge and Carmen Cid at SACNAS ESA booth. Right: Adrienne Sponberg, SEEDS alumna Angelique Rosa Marin and Conchi Rodriguez Fourquet at ESA booth.

ESA SEEDS alumnus Jorge Ramos and ESA staff Sandra del Rio at ESA Booth – SACNAS

The ESA delegation spoke with dozens of attendees about ecology careers and pathways, and shared information about ESA’s career development programs such as SEEDS, Scientists in the Parks, Ecology Plus, and the new ESA Excellence in Ecology Scholars program. Students came from as far as American Samoa to Puerto Rico to attend SACNAS. Over 1,100 students presented posters and easily 160 stopped at our booth over two days.

Besides the great feeling of excitement that we shared at the SACNAS conference, we saw ESA SEEDS alumni in action now mentoring other students at the BioBlitz and giving talks, along with one of our ESA 2021 EEE Scholars providing guidance to all on how to integrate ecology into public policy effectively.

Dr. Erika Zavaleta, ESA EEE Scholar 2021, presenting her research at SACNAS

ESA leaders attended all ecology-related poster presentations and most of the oral presentations. On the final day of the conference, ESA co-sponsored a BioBlitz (along with iDigBio, Florida Museum, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Stanford University, Luquillo LTER, University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Southern California Marine & Environmental Biology), taking around 80 students to El Yunque Tropical Forest. The overwhelming interest (nearly 500 registered) far exceeded transportation capabilities, signaling a keen interest in ecology and related sciences at SACNAS. An additional dozen attendees participated in a pre-conference BioBlitz around the San Juan Convention Center as well.

SACNAS BioBlitz students, faculty and administrators at El Yunque -Rio Grande, PR


Tuskegee students with SEEDS alumna Dr. Zakiya Leggett at ESA booth at MANRRS 2022 conference – Jacksonville, FL

ESA’s presence at SACNAS, as well as at the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) conference earlier this year is one of many steps ESA has taken in response to the ESA DEIJ Task Force recommendations. The Task Force specifically recommended that ESA develop a strategy to partner with minority-serving institutions and organizations. Within months of receiving the recommendations, the ESA Governing Board approved funds for ESA to attend the conference of minority-serving organizations for each of the next three years. Concurrently, ESA submitted a proposal to the NSF Leading Cultural Change through Professional Societies (LEAPS) program to bring together three societies from ecology and environmental biology (ESA, The Wildlife Society, and the Society for Freshwater Sciences) with three societies dedicated to broadening participation in STEM: MANRRS, SACNAS and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. A key component of ESA’s LEAPS award was for disciplinary societies to “flip the model” of bringing students to our conferences and instead go to the conferences of our partners. Sponberg and Collinge, as well as MANRRS past-president Mia Farrell traveled to SACNAS as part of the LEAPS award.

ESA President Sharon Collinge and MANRRS past president Mia Farrell

Our experiences at SACNAS and MANRRS have already spurred discussion by the ESA Governing Board about ESA’s approach to increasing diversity in our field, as well as how to bolster a sense of inclusion and belonging at our own conferences. We left SACNAS wondering how we can make ESA meetings more student-friendly and, frankly, more fun. Are there elements of student-focused conferences that we can incorporate into our meetings, where thousands of ecologists present their research? These are conversations that will continue with our Meetings Committee and staff, as well as with our LEAPS partners.

Are you an ESA member interested in attending the MANRRS or SACNAS conferences next year? MANRRS will be in Atlanta, GA in April 2023 and SACNAS in Portland, OR in October 2023. Please contact Limited travel support is available.