Two students from the University of New Mexico have been nominated to participate in the 2022 cohort of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award offers graduate students the opportunity to participate in a virtual day of Congress tours.
Cassandra Miller holds a Ph.D. student at UNM. Miller studies how climate change disrupts traditional plant-microbe interactions and subsequent impacts on the carbon cycle in dryland ecosystems.
Benjamin Gerstner holds a Ph.D. National Science Foundation candidate and graduate researcher at UNM. Benjamin’s research focuses on the evolution of polyploid plants, using both theoretical modeling and empirical experiments.
“I study the impacts of drought on ecosystems in New Mexico to promote resilience to climate change disturbances,” Miller explained. “In particular, I examine how changes in precipitation and temperature modify and disrupt the interactions between plants and their microbial communities in order to develop drought management strategies. I am able to leverage long-term datasets and large-scale field experiments at UNM’s LTER Sevilleta to ask big questions about the impacts of climate change in New Mexico.
“I study the evolution of polyploid plants through theory and empirical experiments. I identify as an evolutionary biologist who works with plants. I’m broadly interested in evolution across domains and learning knowledge from new applications of ‘basic’ evolutionary principles,” Gerstner said.
Students learn about the legislative process and federal science funding before meeting virtually with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological and ecological sciences. Additionally, GSPA recipients will explore career options in politics. Ecologists who work in federal agencies will share their career paths and how scientific training can be applied to inform policy.
“This award means that someone believes in my leadership and in my ability to defend science. And in their belief, they give me the opportunity to learn more about federal governance processes and a way to meet our representatives in Congress. This award means I can share my expertise and thoughts with leaders who will vote on appropriations that have immeasurable impacts on science and society. I feel humbled and it’s an honor that goes far beyond ‘the line on the resume’ or the sentiments of a ‘congratulations’,” Gerstner remarked.
“I am so excited to receive this award! I am driven by my desire to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, especially in New Mexico where my family and I have deep ties to the land. This award allows me to get hands-on training in political science and communications and facilitates opportunities to meet with our federal representatives to advocate for the importance of science. I hope this will be the first of many future collaborations to help bridge the gap between scientists and policy makers. This award provides crucial training for early career researchers on how to navigate the complex political system in order to communicate their research to better inform science policy solutions,” Miller said.
Both Lobos look forward to using this experience to represent UNM and promote their knowledge of water and drought issues to legislators.
“It is an honor to represent UNM and NM with this award,” said Miller. “As I pursue my PhD, I am fortunate that my research will not only add to our body of knowledge on promoting drought resilience in drylands, but may also have tangible impacts on the society. By gaining the skills to communicate science to decision makers through this award, I will be able to successfully advocate for the importance of science funding and education in NM to nurture the next generation of science leaders. I hope to be able to continue to share my skills from this training with the UNM biology department and beyond.
“This award signifies that a representative of our own academic and metropolitan community advocates for federal investment in biological and environmental sciences to contribute to research and development by studying issues facing our communities. One of the most pressing questions we need to address is how we can support the water use of our growing metropolitan population while reducing our net impacts on underground aquifers and the Rio Grande without disrupting life. to which we are accustomed. In short, we may not be able to. Federal support for research and development is critical to finding lasting solutions,” Gerstner said.
Miller plans to pursue a career that combines his love of environmental science and education in New Mexico “where I know the land and culture intimately, to help bring about equitable environmental solutions that promote resilience. “.
“My plan is to have a positive impact on society by promoting science literacy…I aspire to work in science education reform. I think one of the saddest realities of my generation is that of everyone who sincerely believes they’re not smart enough to understand science. Ultimately, this misconception has a far greater impact on society than we may even realize. Whatever my career, I know I will work to make a positive impact because if I don’t, it’s not a career worth having,” Gerstner remarked.
“It is very gratifying and encouraging to see our graduate students at ESA engage with the science-policy interface and hear directly from policymakers about the importance of receiving critical information about the ecological systems that matter to their constituents. experience, this ESA award equips these young environmentalists with essential science communication and listening skills that will enable them to successfully engage in the political arena,” said ESA President Dennis Ojima.