ESA honors Gillian Bowser for her Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology

The Ecological Society of America’s Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach.

Gillian Bowser samples pollinators with students in the 3dNaturalists program during the National Park Service’s Centennial Bioblitz in Bandelier National Park, in 2016. Students worked in “pollinator hotshot teams” to identify pollinators and upload photos and information to an online database using a citizen science app called iNaturalist. Credit: Carrie Lederer

Gillian Bowser (right) samples pollinators with students in the 3dNaturalists program during the National Park Service’s Centennial Bioblitz in Bandelier National Park, in 2016. Students worked in “pollinator hotshot teams” to identify pollinators and upload photos and information to an online database using a citizen science app called iNaturalist. Credit: Carrie Lederer.

Gillian Bowser, a research scientist in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) and affiliated faculty with The Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and Department of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University, is honored for her joyful and successful recruitment and retention of under-represented students to ecological research, to public service in support of the natural world, and to empowerment of women and minorities worldwide.

In 2010, Dr. Bowser secured funding from the National Science Foundation to establish the Rocky Mountain Sustainability and Science Network (RMSSN), which brings diverse undergraduates to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for hands-on field experience with ecological scientists. The 10-day RMSSN Academy’s mission is to spark enthusiasm for environmental science and give students the opportunity to develop into leaders in sustainability, biodiversity and community engagement in the protection of natural resources.

“Students describe that they’ve never thought about ecology before,” said Dr. Bowser. “So we’ve accomplished the eye-opening as well as providing students with a peer network within the discipline, and that’s a critical start.”

RMSSN has developed into a 501(c)(3) non-profit supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Beacham O’Malley Trust and the National Park Service. Now in its eighth year, the academy boasts over 100 alumni many working at universities, NGOs or federal agencies in science positions.

“That’s the most fulfilling,” said Dr. Bowser. “Seeing where those students are today and that they keep in touch with each other as part of the RMSSN community.”

Dr. Bowser’s latest project is 3dNaturalist and the Pollinator Hotshots, designed to introduce minority students to citizen science, community engagement and national parks, connecting them to big data projects through smartphone apps, and other approaches. Workshops and internships bring students together with practitioners, academics, agency managers. Summer-long paid internships will send undergraduate Pollinator Hotshots into the field, including international sites in Peru and the United Kingdom, to track pollinators with smartphones and GoPros. With the focused attention of the Pollinator Hotshots, Dr. Bowser aims to find a way to document pollinator decline using innovative approaches and new technologies while engaging diverse students.

Dr. Bowser has focused her career on increasing opportunities for women and minorities in science, internationally as well as in the United States. For the last eight years, she has advocated for the inclusion of gender in climate solutions as part of the Women’s Major Group at the United Nations climate change talks. She helped launch the Global Women Scholars Network as an National Science Foundation project linking women scholars around the world and is one of a team of international researchers and authors working on the Global Environmental Outlook, GEO6 and the Global Gender and Environmental Outlook, a first-of-its-kind project led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess environmental state and trends through a gender lens.

“Diversity and gender issues are really being challenged right now. It’s important for ESA to honor the importance of gender and diversity in scientific research and leadership and, in particular, ecology as a discipline needs to reflect the diversity of the human spirit. We need to make sure everybody feels included in ecology and be aware of the internal and external biases that may exclude some segments of our society,” said Dr. Bowser. “It’s not as easy as throwing out a program and hoping somebody applies for it.’ We have to be mindful and inclusive, and try to understand the barriers to ecology viewed through the student perspective, that may highlight biases internal to ecological discipline itself.


Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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