GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 231-5
Presentation Time: 2:40 PM


KELLEY, Patricia H., Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 S. College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403, DIETL, Gregory P., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850 and VISAGGI, Christy C., Geosciences, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303

Undergraduate research experiences provide many educational and personal benefits to students but usually do not train them to conduct the transdisciplinary team science needed to solve many environmental and conservation problems. To examine the extent to which team science was used to train the next generation, we analyzed recent (2013-2018) funding in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program (Geosciences and Biological Sciences directorates). At most REU sites, undergraduates conduct individual projects supervised by a mentor; only 6% of award abstracts mentioned teamwork by students, and work across disciplines was rare. In contrast, in the “REU in Biodiversity Conservation” project we directed, students from geology, biology, archaeology, and environmental sciences worked in transdisciplinary teams on conservation-related research using fossil, archaeological, and modern samples. To our knowledge, this site was the first to train undergraduates in conservation by working across disciplines using the geohistorical record, exemplifying the emerging field of conservation paleobiology. Students learned research skills and career-readiness competencies useful in conservation, and 85% subsequently pursued STEM graduate study or employment, including in the environmental and conservation fields. Nevertheless, the utility of our research results in environmental management was limited because we did not include participants from relevant fields outside the natural sciences and did not seek partnerships with conservation practitioners, policy makers, or local stakeholders. We propose a new model for undergraduate training programs in the areas of conservation and the environment. Trainees might include such fields as economics, political science, management, and planning, and conservation practitioners and stakeholders would be partners in research designed to meet community needs. Although more cumbersome than the typical one-on-one mentorship of most REUs and other training programs, the new model will produce transdisciplinary, team-focused training that yields actionable results. Ultimately both the students and society will benefit from this transformative approach to training in environmental and conservation sciences.