Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences departments unite around diversity and engagement initiatives

In 1948 Professor James Hope Birnie became First African-American biology faculty member at Syracuse University, teaching here until 1951. He was also one of the first members of the biology faculty to be supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Throughout his career in academia and industry, he has remained committed to creating opportunities for underrepresented students in science.

Today, departments such as biology and earth and environmental sciences (EES) continue the important legacy of A&S pioneers like Birnie, seeking innovative ways to ensure their classrooms and fields are welcoming to all. Over the past 18 months, biology and SEE faculty, graduate and undergraduate students have introduced new approaches to encourage diversity and equity and promote engagement with aspiring scientists from around the world. the community.

The SEEDS SPUR scholarship

Earth and Environmental Science graduate student Eliza Hurst demonstrates hydrology to students at the North Side Learning Center in Syracuse.

The Strategies for education on ecology, diversity and sustainability (The SEEDS program) was established by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) nearly three decades ago with the goal of working to increase minority representation by introducing students to environmentalists from diverse backgrounds and giving them a practical experience of the field and its real world. apps. The programs Partnership Scholarship for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) is its highest honor and matches selected undergraduate students with institutions carrying out work that matches their interests and research goals. This is an opportunity open to all undergraduate students, but underrepresented minority, low-income, first-generation, and veteran students are especially encouraged to apply.

Biology professor Katie Becklin had been involved with SEEDS as a mentor in the past, and in early 2021 worked with fellow biology professor Jason Fridley to have Syracuse listed as a SPUR partner institution. Last summer, the first undergraduate student came to work at Syracuse University as an SPUR intern.

“We are committed to funding one SEEDS scholarship each summer,” says Becklin. The scholarship (which is remunerated and provides fully funded travel and research costs) is nationally advertised and open also to current Syracuse students; applications are posted in late fall each year and due in early March. Since the program is supported by the biology department as a whole, the selected fellow will be paired with one of several biology labs that best suits their interests. “It’s a little different from typical summer research,” says Becklin, “[in that SEEDS] also offers professional development and networking opportunities throughout the year.

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Katie Becklin, assistant professor of biology

Currently, the department is reviewing approximately 15 applications for this year’s fellowship. “I’m very excited about the level of interest in this program from students across the country,” says Becklin, who hopes more Scholars positions will be offered at Syracuse University in the future. “Not only is this program a tool to increase diversity within the ecology, but it’s also a way to show students from other areas just how great Syracuse is. [Our first intern] was fantastic in the lab – hope they come here for graduate school in the future.

Natural Science Explorers Program

This spring, eight graduate students in biology and ESE launched the Natural Science Explorers program, a weekly outreach program for elementary school students at the North Side Learning Center (NSLC). Eliza Hurst of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences led the program with support from Becklin, whose class, Scientific awareness in biologyinspired the initiative.

Working with students in grades three through five, Hurst and his colleagues collaborate to create lessons that meet students’ interests, from basic education (“What is science?” “Clouds​ are they real?”) to hands-on demonstrations of how science affects their daily lives. She specializes in hydrology, for example, so she created an urban hydrology model using rubber tubs, sponges and a camp shower, to show how water flows and moves, how altering the landscape with roads and buildings changes that, how contaminants move and soon.

These types of lessons, incorporating inquiry-based learning as well as culturally appropriate teaching (incorporating students’ experiences and perspectives into teaching) help make science real and tangible in students’ minds. budding of all kinds, allowing them to see themselves as scientists. . Hurst and his colleagues hope that students’ scientific curiosity will stay with them in school and in life.

Based on the initial success of the program, graduating students – with support from Becklin and EES Professor Chris Junium – were able to secure an Engaged Communities Grant through A&S’ Network of Engaged Human Sciences (EHN), which will provide funds to maintain the program.

“We’re especially excited about the potential of a summer program to provide time to delve into topics and incorporate field trips to explore our central New York ecosystems,” says Hurst. “We are in the process of reflecting and planning for the next school year where we will continue our regular extracurricular science programs.”

For more information on community engagement opportunities, visit the EHN and Office of Community Engagement websites.

Diversity in E4 Seminar Series (Ecology, Evolution, Earth and Environment)

Over the past two years, a group of graduate students from the departments of Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences have led the charge to create, with the help of faculty, this series of virtual seminars in the fields of ecology, evolution, Earth and the environment, designed to increase the visibility of scientists with diverse identities. Sixteen speakers have participated so far.

Graduate student Alex Ebert led the effort on the biology side and worked with Hurst, who was the first graduate student member of her department’s DEI committee, among other things, to bring in speakers. “Our two main goals were to amplify the diverse voices in our field and provide a platform for their research ideas,” says Ebert, “and also to include at least some discussion [of] the intersection of race and environmental science such as historical underrepresentation and ways to begin to address these disparities.

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Biology graduate student Alex Ebert

In addition to presenting the latest research and work by scientists, each event also offers opportunities for interaction and networking, via “virtual lunches” for students and speakers. “There have been so many wonderful conversations during [that informal time] about what led these scientists to where they are today in their various careers,” says Ebert. “But I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of people who took the time during their seminars to discuss their journey and to talk about the importance of mentors and role models. And [now] these lecturers become the same mentors and role models for many students who may never have truly “seen themselves” in the areas that most interest them.

The events are open to everyone, but “we promote them particularly to undergraduate classes – to show them the full range of scientists behind the work they are studying,” says Hurst. Some of these students, including those in Becklin’s Ecology and Evolution class, can earn credit by attending seminars and writing summaries of what they learn.

The series will continue next year, and a new group of graduate students, including Thomas Johnson and Julia Zeh in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Claire Rubbelke in Earth and Environmental Sciences, will take over. A timetable is not yet available, but those seeking more information can contact Johnson or Rubbelke directly.

Story of Laura Wallis

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