Ecological Society of America announces 2016 graduate student policy award recipients

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has selected the 2016 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Brian Kastl (University of California), Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), Matthew Pintar (University of Mississippi), Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), Jessica Nicole Welch (University of Tennessee), and Samantha Lynn Werner (University of New Hampshire).

The six students will travel to Washington, DC on April 27-28 to participate in policy training and attend meetings with their US Representative and Senators. The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA, sponsors the event.

On Capitol Hill, students will team with other scientists to discuss with lawmakers the importance of federal funding for the biological sciences, particularly the National Science Foundation (NSF). Participants will attend sessions about how current political and fiscal issues may impact federal agencies. ESA graduate student policy awardees will also meet with federal ecologists to learn about their work within the federal government.

"Young ecological scientists who are confident in their ability to engage within the policy sphere are needed more than ever, whether they chose to pursue a career in policy or research. Proficiency in communicating science to lawmakers to inform policy decisions is a valuable skill for ESA members to attain, and it's never too soon to start," said Katherine McCarter, executive director of ESA.

Kastl's research on ecosystem services aims to inform the design of policies that support sustainable watershed management. In 2012, he was selected by The Nature Conservancy to lead a policy study in Micronesia to reduce the impact of deforestation on water security. He was subsequently awarded a travel grant to present his research at the 2013 United Nations Environment Program Global Land-Ocean Connections Conference. He is a PhD student in ecohydrdrology and decision science at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, UC Santa Barbara, and a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Lear worked with a Mexican non-governmental organization to develop science-based conservation policies for the Mexican Long-nosed bat. Her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship has been critical in providing professional development and in funding her bat conservation research. She is pursuing a PhD in Integrative Conservation and Forestry & Natural Resources at the University of Georgia.

Pintar's graduate school experiences with the National Park Service and the US Forest Service shaped his interest in policy engagement. Internships with the Prince William Forest Park and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area provided him with unique insight into policy management decisions. As an undergrad, he studied the effects of acidification on ovenbird territory size within the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine. He is pursuing a PhD in Biology from the University of Mississippi.

Treuer's NSF-funded research developed a technique using arrays of microphones, synced by GPS, to investigate how acoustically active species interact and coexist in their environment. Through participation in the Civics and Conservation Summit and the Climate Project, he led legislative and advocacy engagement efforts with Alaska's state and federal lawmakers. He is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.

Welch studies threats to bats caused by invasive species and analyses the extinction risk of threatened bat species to better inform conservation efforts. She is involved with a diverse array of public outreach and volunteer work promoting science education. As Coordinator for Tennessee Darwin Day event, she applied for grants and solicited donations to offer Tennessee schoolteachers instruction on how to teach climate change and evolution. Welch has also presented at the 2012 and 2015 ESA annual meetings and served as a SEEDS mentor during the latter centennial meeting. She is working towards her PhD in Ecology and Environmental Biology at the University of Tennessee

Werner hopes to provide policymakers with a better understanding of the link between agro-ecological sustainability and economic vitality through her Master's degree research in environmental economics at the University of New Hampshire, funded by the US Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. As an undergraduate, Werner got her start in research investigating the impact of climate change on ecosytems in northern Sweden with support from NSF. She presented her research during ESA's centennial meeting.

The Graduate Student Policy Award is one of several ways ESA works to offer its graduate student members opportunities to gain public policy experience. The Society also provides policy training during its annual meeting and by request throughout the year. ESA graduate student members may run–through ESA's Student Section–to serve on several ESA standing committees including the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). ESA's Washington, DC-base Public Affairs Office works closely with the PAC and focuses on activities to engage ecological scientists with policymakers and the media.

Reflections from past recipients are available on the Graduate Student Policy Award alumni network page.


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 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

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