Auburn University graduate students chosen to receive prestigious Ecological Society of America policy award

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Two Auburn University graduate students in the College of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Amanda Alva and Lynn Von Hagen, have been selected as recipients of the Ecological Society of America’s 2022 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award.

The Ecological Society of America, or ESA, award gives students hands-on training and science policy experience. Students are given the opportunity to interact with congressional decision-makers, federal officials and ecologists who work in the science and public policy arena.

“I am hoping to take what I learn from the ESA Graduate Student Policy Award experience and use it to further my career as a scientist into the realms of natural resource management and policy science,” said Alva, a master’s student in Associate Professor Kelly Dunning’s Conservation Governance Lab.

Alva is pursuing a career focused on marine natural resource management.

“While I found my passion for marine ecology in my undergraduate coursework, my interdisciplinary certificate courses opened my eyes to the injustice and lack of prioritization in managing our nation’s natural resources,” said Alva.

Participants receive communications training, learn about the federal budget and appropriations processes and become familiar with the political landscape.

Doctoral candidate Lynn Von Hagen, who is advised by Professor Christopher Lepczyk, says she is honored to be a part of the diverse cohort and looks forward to learning more about the role of policy in ecology.

Von Hagen researches the effects of human-elephant interactions on local villagers in southeastern Kenya.

“I work with rural, impoverished farmers to find sustainable solutions such as deterrent fencing and conduct participatory sessions to have a greater understanding of the socioeconomic impacts of elephant crop raiding,” said Von Hagen. “As a conservation biologist, I look at how use of these types of information can be used to inform structured decision making and conservation management and planning.

“Policy is an important part of science that is sometimes overlooked in curriculums. This award is an important part of my career development, as it gives specific training that demonstrates how ecological practice can inform policy.”

After the training, participants meet with congressional decision-makers or their staffs to discuss federal support of research and education in the biological sciences.

Alva and Von Hagen believe federal funding is an important part of ecological research and their experience as recipients of the Graduate Student Policy Award will help prepare them to convey to Congress the importance of their support for our national resources.

“It is an honor that two of our students have been provided the opportunity through ESA’s Graduate Student Policy Award program to learn how ecological practices can inform policy, as well as how to lobby and communicate with important members of Congress,” said Janaki Alavalapati, the college’s dean. “These students will gain valuable perspective to better enable them to apply their scientific knowledge toward the advancement of sustainable natural resource management policy.”

(Written By Gracen Carter)

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