Monday, February 27, 2012

Guest Post--You Go Girl! Diversifying the Nature of Ecology

Dr. Bowser (left) with NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jamison. Both were public delegates  at the 2011 UN Commission on the Status of Women.  (Photo courtesy of Dr. Gillian Bowser.)

This entry was submitted by Dr. Gillian Bowser, a research scientist at Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, at Colorado State University. She is the lead on a National Science Foundation grant called the Global Women Scholars Network in Sustainability. This network strives to promote women and girls in the sciences related to sustainability. Additionally, she is a leader in the Rocky Mountain Sustainability and Science Network (RMSSN) that brings together federal and state agencies, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations to collaborate in research relevant to sustainability. RMSSN is also committed to developing a diverse population of student-leaders who can address the many issues surrounding the management and use of public lands.

Dr. Bowser's contribution:

As a female African American Ecologist from Brooklyn, New York, I can count the number of ecologists who look like me on one hand—and not even need to use my thumb.  Ecology has long been the field of nature lovers and wilderness seekers and yet has spectacularly failed to attract diverse people.  “Minorities don’t like the wilderness” one of my colleagues declares as we are busy digging out our four-wheel drive vehicle in a remote corner of Great Sand Dunes National Park.  “Black people don’t like the cold…”  another colleague announces as we snowshoe up a canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park.  “Maybe they [black people] are just too urban” a professor suggests as we trek across a moon lit plateau in Grand Teton National Park.  “Ecology is about nature and black people don’t like the woods—remember whole lotta trees and rope is cheap” a friend confides as we herd an enthusiastic group of teenagers through the woods looking for insects.  Ecology, it seems, is determined to be a field about the processes of nature and to remain remarkably un-diverse.

However, I see hope for my chosen discipline. Yet that hope comes at the great costs of the greatest environmental threat facing humankind—climate change and environmental sustainability.  To address climate change, we need to engage the global populations in looking for sustainable solutions and those solutions will require social, community and environmental expertise all in one.  Suddenly, or so it seems, ecology has to include community and sustainability as a field speaks to all about the environment in a way that “pure” ecology has yet to achieve. 

To Celebrate Black History Month and African Americans in Science, I want to shout out to the youth.  The African American students interested in science today want to save the world for their communities and ecology is just one of the tools that they need in their toolkit for the task.  I now have students applying to my lab because we have a grant in women and sustainability and these students write applications about using ecology to help their communities.  I see African American students participating in our bioblitzes in urban gardens teaching younger students about the importance of bees as pollinators for grandma’s tomatoes.  I see social networks where Africans, African Americans and Hispanic students are talking about climate adaptation strategies to save a village from the uncertainty of climate change.   These students are my heroes and mentors.  My vision now of African Americans in science is one that I saw at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen three years ago.  A young African American woman spoke to the assembly of 191 nations and said  “I am saving the world for my generation NOW not tomorrow. “  You go girl.

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