Public Release: 

Ecological Society of America awarded NSF funding to retain diversity

Ecological Society of America

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $597,643 grant to the Ecological Society of America's Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, supporting a three-pronged approach to increase diversity within the ecological field. The grant spans four years, beginning this June.

The new NSF award will support activities that guide students to identify ecology as a viable career option, develop a sense of personal connection with science, and surmount cultural stereotypes that hinder participation. It will also fund development of a mechanism for connecting the "marketplace" of opportunities along a variety of career pathways in ecology.

"While most diversity programs seek to recruit and engage underrepresented students, this SEEDS project expands our work with the aim of retaining underrepresented students in the ecological field," said Teresa Mourad, ESA Director of Education and Diversity Programs.

A 2011 National Academy of Science study indicates that underrepresented minority populations in the science and engineering workforce needs to triple to keep pace with the nation's changing demographics.

The NSF grant supports three new activities building on the existing SEEDS program: regional ecological field experiences, partnerships with field stations and researchers for undergraduate summer research, and a SEEDS Certificate program. Although the program is open to all students, it makes a special effort to attract minorities, first-generation college students, economically-disadvantaged and veteran students.

Working with over 90 SEEDS campus chapters across the US, regional field experiences funded by the NSF grant are designed specifically for freshmen and sophomore college students to gain real-world exposure by working hand-in-hand with ecologists. For many underrepresented students, this is usually their first opportunity to work at a field station or engage in a field investigation.

New ecological field station partnerships will offer more summer research opportunities for undergraduate students. They will present their summer research at SEEDS Leadership Meetings and the ESA Annual Meeting. Held annually, the Leadership Meeting is an opportunity for SEEDS student leaders to engage in a dialogue about the connections between science and society. The meeting provides a venue for SEEDS participants to develop 21st century skills and understanding in communications, policy, community outreach and education, rounding out their experience as young scientists.

Set for a Fall, 2015 launch, the SEEDS Certificate will function as the hub to provide students with a range of experiences to prepare them for an ecological career. An ESA member will mentor each participating student during and after their participation in SEEDS to advise them in their career development. This is the first time that ESA will implement long-term mentoring in SEEDS.

"Just-in-time advising is critical for many students to succeed in ecology," said Mourad. "All too often, underrepresented students are simply unaware of the skills and experiences needed to succeed. For instance, students do not commonly know that research experience is required for acceptance into a graduate ecology program."

Minority students face an additional hurdle--some of their institutions do not have ecology programs or cannot provide ecology research experiences. This means they must seek out opportunities. SEEDS is designed to facilitate opportunities for them. Students also need to know the range of ecology careers that are available in both research and applied practice.

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SEEDing a diverse peer network: read an interview with SEEDs alumna Betsabé Castro, currently completing her MA at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She will begin a PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2015 with support from the NSF's prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), 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 10,000 member Society publishes six 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 http://www.esa.org.

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