Panel I: Minority Issues in Sustainability Science
Panel II & final remarks: Conference Reflections
The original agenda called for two panel discussions, with time for audience Q&A, followed by a “Town Meeting” to sum up the conference. What happened is that the second panel discussion – general reflections on the conference – transitioned naturally into the group discussion without a break.
The following notes are based on hand written notes. They are paraphrased, not verbatim, and should not be cited.
Panel I: Minority issues in Sustainability Science
Panelists: La’ona DeWilde (U of Alaska Fairbanks); Melanie Harrison (U of Maryland at Baltimore); T.J. Eatmon (Southern U); Nilsa Bosque-Pérez(faculty – U of Idaho); Terry Chapin (faculty – U of Alaska Fairbanks)
Nilsa Bosque-Pérez - There are three factors that we can consider when discussing minority issues in sustainability science. One is the under representation of female scientists in faculty positions in academia. Another is how to attract minorities to pursue careers in fields such as ecology or agriculture. One problem with recruitment is family pressure. People often view college education as leading to jobs associated with white shirts and ties in an office, not “fieldwork,” which sounds too much like what poor folks do. Some people don’t want their educated children to get their hands dirty. Another factor is the unique opportunities that we have while working with communities from underrepresented groups. Given that such groups are particularly vulnerable to change, sustainability issues are highly relevant to them. That should give us an opportunity to connect to their reality and attract students from such communities.
T.J. Eatmon – Southern, where he attends, is a traditionally Black school. It partners with Michigan Tech. Partnering problems have proven to be institutional more than cultural. Partnering involves lots of changes. Michigan Tech had been through similar trials in the past. He would not have gone to Southern had it not been for its IGERT program. The funding and the opportunity attracted him. Previously, he had attended a huge university, then taught seventh grade for two years. He is determined to make the best of the school’s strengths. Being there has opened the door to funding. He feels he is an asset in a small school.
Melanie Harrison – There is that saying, “If you build it, they will come.” Her variant is, “If you fund it, they will come.” She notes that women are now a majority in the sciences. That took time. The progress of minorities will follow a similar course. We cannot push it – no one wants to come to an environment where they do not feel they belong. Often institutions set out to add a “minority component” without doing the leg work to build the foundation to make it work. Don’t just throw recruiting into a grant. Don’t recruit people unless you can provide them with a support network.
La’ona DeWilde – She got her master’s degree through IGERT and now is working on a doctorate. When she grew up [in an Athabaskan village in Alaska], elders bragged about how tough people were in the Old Days. She was taught a traditional skill set. Many families saw kids in the Westernized schools losing old skills. The disappointment the elders felt towards such youths rankled. The youth felt they were despised and lacked options. Hers was a generations racked with suicides. Elders changed their tune and became more supportive of the schools. The situation is improving, because college graduates are starting to return to the villages and encourage teens.
Village children don’t see people of other races. They are scared of strangers. An example would be seeing a store counter clerk as intimidating – village youngsters would make remarks like, “Just because he was white, I thought he was a policeman or something.”
Most people in the Bush [rural Alaska] don’t know that programs like IGERT exist. They want to be sure that if they go to college they can get a good job. Financial security is important.
Terry Chapin – If we build a good program, we can attract students who are both varied and good. But jobs are a concern. How can we be more supportive?
People from the audience then began to comment and ask questions:
Meghan Schulz -- University of Delaware’s IGERT had an outreach symposium for undergraduates, invited from colleges that historically served Black and Hispanic students. IGERT fellows presented their work; they brought in speakers. She recommends having a presence at undergraduate conferences, they are good recruiting opportunities.
Kimberly Maher – She was in an NSF-funded program to teach elementary school, 3-4 days a week. The children went from not knowing what scientists were to wanting to be scientists.
Amanda Henck – The University of Washington program requires a pedagogical internship of some type. Through Multinational Collaborations on Challenges to the Environment, she was able to take high-school students to participate in field work in China.
Clare Aslan – She’s heard that women are now the majority of students, but they are still behind in the professions. She is a mother. She and other parents feel they have support from their IGERT. But nobody else wants to talk about problems encountered by grad students with babies.
Amy McCleary – Her program does have 6 months of maternity leave.
Chanda Meek – Do programs try to foster mentors? The UAF engineering program, by the way, seems to be undergoing a baby boom.
Karen Hibbard-Rode – She has read about role models. But how do we find them?
Melanie Harrison – A teacher or a coach can make a real difference. Universities could benefit from outreach. Profs should do the outreach, because they are the people who have real jobs.
Nilsa Bosque-Pérez – Gender is an issue. In entomology, about 50% of graduate students are female but only 10% of faculty are female.
Libby Larson – Attracting people can be a problem. IGERT sent her to a conference for Black students. They only wanted to look at medical schools. How do we convey that there is more to biology?
Miriam Goldstein – Get real! We won’t earn the same money as a med student will. Past the two years of IGERT funding, money is a serious issue. But environmental scientists get to do cool stuff like travel to exotic places.
Terry Chapin – Can sustainability studies attract community leaders? Maybe we should turn the situation around and recruit older people to mentor us?
Amy Duchelle – Non-citizens are another group of concern. Often good people are ineligible for NSF funding because they are foreign nationals. Her IGERT set up a “sister program” on Amazon Basin leadership. Technically, it is not IGERT, but it is so close it is a way to bring in more people.
Becky Blanchard – Her program does a similar thing. We can seek related programs to support.
Carol Van Hartesveldt – Programs are out there that provide funding for under-represented groups. The Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate is one. These offer not fellowships but other funding avenues. There is a program that specifically funds two years of graduate school for minorities.
Matt Hufford – The mention of needing a support network reminded him of the role of IGERT cohorts. Does anyone want to comment on the role they might play?
T.J. Eatmon – Surroundings do make a difference. He showed up in a suit and tie, not baggy pants, the first day of this conference to scope out the situation.
Melanie Harrison – The “color” issue – it is time that society got past that.
La’ona DeWilde – When she arrived at UAF she was deathly shy, and had no idea how college worked. The campus support office for village kids was a lifesaver for her.
Joe Holler – This morning we asked ourselves who we (as IGERT students) are. Now we are hearing that no one wants to go where we don’t belong. But remember it is valuable to challenge ourselves, to step out of our comfort zones, whether we do it as minority students in IGERT programs or as gringos traveling abroad.
Panel II: Conference Reflections –“Town Meeting”
Q Kellogg (faculty – U of Rhode Island); Tim Baird (U of North Carolina); Meghan Schulz (U of Delaware); Thad Miller (Arizona State U); Narcisa Pricope (U of Florida); Abby Popp (U of Wisconsin); Rob Beattie (faculty – U of Wisconsin); and Archana Bali (U of Alaska Fairbanks)
Rob Beattie – In the discussion of epistemology, people started talking about respect as a starting point. That would help with a lot of things. He teaches a class on community and team building. At the poster session, he thought of a critique but paused and looked at the particular poster anew. “This conference has been a blast that way,” he said. Here he has seen abstract ideas playing out in application.
Abby Popp – She feels excitement and optimism. In school, she switched disciplines. Now she feels she has direction, support and hope. The conference has given her a whole collection of new ideas for her IGERT. We all need to keep talking – even to people who frustrate us.
Narcisa Pricope – She is convinced that interdisciplinarity is not an anomaly but will become the norm, and this conference has reinforced that belief. This is a microcosm of interdisciplinary studies – an array of people with diverse skills and views. We found convergences. But we also found common ground on problems that seem disparate. She sees ways to improve her IGERT, based on what she has learned here.
Thad Miller – He has compiled a list of the main points he has gleaned:
1. Multiple ways of knowing are valuable.
2. Maybe we are the generation of academics that can figure some of this out.
3. Continue the excitement!
He recommended that we circulate an e-mail list of all the participants, and plan for another conference, possibly at Arizona State University in two years.
Meghan Schulz – Her list of take-home ideas from the meeting:
1. Student-driven IGERTs provide opportunities for students to build their own programs to serve their needs.
2. Interdisciplinary teams are different from interdisciplinary people – she wants to get past the shallow interdisciplinarity that the group referred to metaphorically as “doing the hokey pokey.”
3. Emphasizing depth versus breadth comes down to a personal choice that we must ponder. She would be interested in trying the “T” exercise some mentioned, a tool which helps gauge people’s depth and breadth orientation, with her IGERT team and primary investigator.
She thanked the Alaskan group for inviting everyone.
Tim Baird – A barrier to interdisciplinary work is that often a project interests one side but not the other. Or results come across as weak or opaque to other disciplines. In his group, methodologies have proven the biggest challenges. Approaches to surveys and statistics differ. He said, “I was just blown away at the poster session by all the stuff.” IGERT fellows need to lay out ways to do interdisciplinary research. We should start with epistemologies, values and mutual respect. We should not hesitate to take a stand about our expertise. Such a path has risk, but also much opportunity.
Q Kellogg – “We’ve got to do this again,” she said. As an IGERT administrator, she got ideas for institutionalizing the program without asking for more money. Other tips were useful, such as seeking a common space for IGERT people to interact informally. The students’ anxiety about their futures impressed her. She found Redman’s model of “where we are” helpful. There is a remaining need, not addressed in depth here, to better define sustainability.
Archana Bali – As a first-semester participant, she is glad this conference is part of her introduction to IGERT. The three things that touched her:
1. People have so many serious questions. It is reassuring to see others grappling with questions that have concerned her.
2. Epistemology matters. She wants to work with communities, but is afraid of their gate-keepers. She learned here that she needs to consider more viewpoints and be more open-minded.
3. The philosophical angle is significant. People often talk about changing the world, but do not change themselves. Conservation biology, the field where she has worked, often is depressing. But she felt that the people at this conference are upbeat, and it was heartening to participate.
The conversation then began around the room.
Joe Holler – He recommended starting a Google book group.
Carol Van Hartesveldt – She wants a product, a document, to take back to the National Science Foundation from this meeting. She wants to compile a “best practices” list. What do we want on that list?
Thad Miller – Student initiative is better than top-down direction.
Amy Duchelle – This is only a small sample of IGERT people! The meeting has inspired her to help build a network of people interested in interdisciplinary science.
Chanda Meek – Send out the list of participants.
Gary Kofinas – Peter August [P.I. from the University of Rhode Island who handles the IGERT list serve] will add all of you to the list serve.
Charles Redman – Being here has been valuable. Small groups hashing out ideas has been productive. This is a treasure. We should do this as often as possible.
Libby Larson – List serves get overwhelming. Facebook has interest groups. Maybe we should set up one of those.
Thad Miller – Arizona State is starting a sustainability blog.
Ruth Dahlquist – The Idaho IGERT created a toolbox to facilitate discussions among team members and is soliciting feedback. It appeared in a BioScience paper entitled “Employing philosophical dialogue in collaborative science.”
Nilsa Bosque-Pérez – The Idaho project toolbox is available as a pdf document available. She would encourage contact among IGERTs – faculty and students – all over. With a Web site, we also need a page for job listings for interdisciplinarians.
Amy Duchelle – The University of Florida IGERT, Working Forests in the Tropic Programs, is sunsetting. It will end with a conference entitled, “Working Forests in the Tropics: Partnering research with practice for conservation and development,” to be held Oct. 5-8, 2008.
Laurel Braitman – The MIT museum will be hosting a conference on environmental issues, another opportunity for IGERT people to interact with the community.
Matt Druckenmiller – What have we missed that should be discussed at future conferences?
Nathan Coutsoubos - He is interested in sustainability work in a broader sense. Is there a role for the arts?
Emilie Springer – “How do you know they aren’t here?”
Gary Kofinas – He suggested three actions to follow through after the conference: create a “best practices” list, set up a Facebook group or blog or somesuch; and set up a jobs page.
Shana Loshbaugh – Let’s also set up an alumni directory of IGERT graduates. They might be helpful for networking and mentoring.
Caitlin Littlefield – This meeting has been productive regarding interdisciplinarity. But we did not focus directly on the key topic of sustainability.
Tim Baird – At the University of North Carolina, a professor said that not all their projects involve sustainability. He disagrees. Any environmental study implies underlying sustainability, and that is the case here. Even if we don’t discuss it explicitly, it underpins everything we are doing at this meeting.
Thad Miller – He would like to see workshops via distance delivery. Here is a chance for external faculty to work with students.
Amy McCleary – Diverse groups are vital. She would like to meet with other stakeholders. It’s important to get perspectives beyond academia. What do other people think of us?
Rob Beattie – That’s an interesting question. We should bring others in by whatever means feels comfortable and natural. He sees three possible groups as natural collaborators: partners in existing projects; interested policy makers; and NGOs working on these issues. Make working with scientists valuable for such people.
Joe Holler – We have diverse and amazing talent. He would like more tangible results. Publication is one avenue; for example we could develop a map of epistemologies.
Amanda Henck – One group she was in came up with a short plan for a workshop on modeling. Sharing workshops is a good framework.
Shade Shutters – We would learn more from stakeholders than they would from us.
Gary Kofinas – He likes comparative studies. IGERT people could partner to do some, and generate papers, seminars, workshops and curricula. We could package the results and give them to other IGERTs.
Clare Aslan – Projects can go beyond papers and conventional academic products. Use other venues, such as newspaper op-ed columns and white papers.
The discussion could have continued for days, but we were out of time!