I guess that some people are really good at planning out where they are going with their careers, but for me serendipity seems to play a really big role. Rather than charting a particular course and then plotting my expedition from “now” to “future goal”, I seem to be more apt to catch a wave and then ride it whereever it might take me. Of course to ride said waves you need to be in the water, and that’s something I try to do: be where the opportunities present themselves.
One such opportunity presented itself five and a half years ago at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. I heard Annie Neale from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency speak about a new tool that they were developing (then called the “National Atlas of Sustainability”, now known as EnviroAtlas). At the time I was interested in new ways to bring the concept of ecosystem services into my Ecology course, and this tool was excited because it was based in a geographical information systems (GIS) framework. One of the really big challenges of teaching ecology is that real ecological patterns occur at scales that are often inaccessible, to researchers and certainly to students. GIS provides a way to look at big spatial patterns, and also has the potential to give students access to data that would be otherwise impossible for them to collect and analyze.
Fast forward and a lot of progress has been made. EnviroAtlas is now very well-developed around two valuable tools: the Eco-Health Relationship Browser and the Interactive Map. I now have two well-developed classroom activities, centered around these tools, that I use in my Ecology, Environment, & the Anthropocene course. The first activity asks students to explore the connection between biodiversity and ecosystem services using the Eco-Health Relationship Browser, and then challenges the students to find a correlation between a “measure of biodiversity” and a “measure of ecosystem services” using the Interactive Map. The second activity asks students to explore connections between the built environment and pollution, also using the Interactive Map, and including searching for examples of environmental injustices. Although students often struggle with some of the concepts that are at the core of these activities, I have found that the EnviroAtlas tools are a great way to empower students to make their own explorations of these challenging concepts.
So it was wonderful to be invited by Annie Neale — the person who got me excited about using EnviroAtlas in the classroom — to join a symposium she helped to organize at the 2018 National Council on Science and the Environment conference in Washington, DC. This conference wasn’t really on my radar screen, as it is more focused on policymakers than on scientists or even science education. But this is also part of the appeal of presenting at this conference: it’s a chance to share what I do with a group of people who I don’t normally come in contact with.
The symposium, entitled “Ecosystem Services Education: Engaging Diverse Audiences with EnviroAtlas“, takes place on January 23rd and features presentations from educators working in a variety of settings. I will be talking about how I use my EnviroAtlas-based activities to empower my undergraduate art and design students to think about the relationship between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and the human-built environment. I am excited not only to join my colleagues presenting in this symposium, but also to check out the various talks happening on this day of the conference.A Major Post, Conferences, Conservation Biology, Ecosystem Services, Environmental Justice, Geography, Higher Education, MSWI-270C, Ecology, Environment, & the Anthropocene, Sustainability, Sustainable Urban Design, Teaching, Teaching Tools