On Saturday, March 25, 2023, the UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute hosted its first Annual Celebration & Awards Ceremony to highlight the work of collaborators who have excelled in Earth systems education, outreach, and communication.
The event was a celebration of the Institute’s accomplishments and a chance to honor the scientists, educators, organizations, and other partners who have helped further TESI’s mission.
“From scientists volunteering their time to visit classrooms to undergraduate students developing engaging social media posts to educators working to introduce current research into their curriculums, fulfilling the mission of our Institute truly takes a village,” said TESI director Bruce MacFadden.
Invited guests first learned about student science outreach work during a social hour featuring posters by:
- Lexi Bolger, TESI Environmental Communicator
- Sarisha Boodoo, TESI Environmental Leaders Fellow
- Patricia Escobar Torres, TESI Environmental Communicator
- Genna Nordling, TESI Environmental Communicator
- Malu Ore Rengifo, Broader Impacts Student
- Aadil Rahman, TESI Environmental Leaders Fellow
- Mallory Tyler, (Un)Common Reads Student
The posters highlighted various TESI digital outreach projects like Earth to Florida and Know Your Florida; undergraduate student programs, such as the TESI Environmental Leaders Fellowship and Network; and experiences from UF classes taught by TESI faculty, including (Un)Common Reads and the Broader Impacts of Science on Society.
After the social hour, invited guests gathered for the formal program which kicked off with a welcome message from Florida Museum of Natural History Director Doug Jones, followed by an introduction by MacFadden. Before the presentation of awards, TESI’s impacts and accomplishments over the past year were presented by TESI program coordinator Sadie Mills.
2023 Thompson Earth Systems Institute Award Recipients
Excellence in Science Communication
UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station
TESI first started collaborating with Dr. Barry after she agreed to be a guest speaker for one of our Science on Tap events at Cypress and Grove Brewery. There, she shared “the secrets of seagrass” with a packed room. She finalized the talk with a clear call to action to preserve these critical Florida habitats.
We had the pleasure of working with Dr. Barry again during our inaugural TESI Environmental Leaders Fellowship spring break field experience. We spent two days in Cedar Key, and Dr. Barry ensured that our itinerary was hands-on and engaging. She took fellows on a golf cart tour of living shorelines, led them on a horseshoe crab tagging activity, and helped organize a boat tour to see clam leases in the Gulf of Mexico, providing important context along the way. Although extension is part of Dr. Barry’s official job description, working with UF undergrads in Alachua County is not, so we thank her for going above and beyond her job duties to make our spring break field experience a success.
“I hope TESI is able to partner with Dr. Barry and the Nature Coast Biological Station for years to come,” said TESI communications manager Becca Burton. “Aside from our Science on Tap and Fellowship programs, Dr. Barry has also continuously been a go-to information source for our student environmental communicator interns. She is always quick to set up an interview and answers their questions in an approachable way, giving them confidence to interview more scientists as their careers progress.”
TESI Outstanding Collaborator
The Repurpose Project & Zero Waste USA
As part of our Environmental Leaders Fellowship, we recruited mentors to share their expertise by meeting informally once a month with their assigned student. Amanda Waddle, an advocate for Zero Waste efforts here in Gainesville and nationwide, seemed a perfect fit for one of our students, Angie, who was interested in learning more about waste and other related issues in our community.
Amanda went out of her way to not just talk to Angie about their shared interest in zero waste, but instead to show her, and even get her involved in outreach activities so she could experience them first-hand. Amanda arranged for Angie to tour Beaten Path Compost, the Repurpose Project, and Reuse Planet. She also gave Angie the opportunity to help table at a community outreach event and shadow a composting project at a local middle school.
Amanda also extended her mentorship and expertise to other students in the Fellowship, including hosting a Zoom meeting for other Fellows who wanted to learn more about Zero Waste issues. She even sponsored another Fellow for their final project, helping them to gather data and compile a list of repair and thrift shops in the Gainesville area.
We are so grateful to Amanda for providing such a rich and impactful experience for our Fellows, especially her assigned mentee Angie. It is telling that, even after a week of boat rides, dolphins, horseshoe crab tagging, and manatees, Angie had this to say about her time with Amanda:
“My favorite part about this fellowship was getting to meet my mentor. She taught me the importance of just being involved in our community, being really patient and always being ready to change our ways.”
TESI Outstanding Partner
UF Water Institute
It’s impossible to talk about Earth systems science in our state without discussing the water quality and quantity issues that are at the top of many Floridian’s minds. The UF Water Institute has continuously worked with TESI over the past few years to help share complex water research with diverse audiences. Dr. Paloma Carton de Grammont, assistant director of the UF Water Institute, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
The UF Water Institute is primarily a research-focused organization, made up of some of the top water experts of our time. Since the intent of TESI is to share this research with audiences across the state, this partnership came naturally. With their scientific expertise and our communication expertise, we got to work.
During our first collaboration, we launched the Water Resources Journalism Intensive, a crash course to help train up-and-coming journalists and science communicators about best practices for reporting on and telling science stories. During this inaugural program, participating students attended the 2020 UF Water Institute Symposium and were assigned a topic to cover, attended related sessions, and worked with experienced science communicators to publish stories on the Water Institute’s website.
In 2022, the Water Institute opened up its symposium again to our TESI Environmental Leaders Fellows. By waiving registration, many of the fellows were able to experience their very first scientific conference. To help practice their networking skills, fellows were tasked with gathering questions for the plenary panel on climate change resilience.
And, most recently, a TESI environmental communicator intern collaborated with the UF Water Institute Graduate Fellows to produce an interactive story about their research in Greenland and what it can tell us about water’s future in a changing world.
“The UF Water Institute truly values effective storytelling,” said Becca Burton, TESI communications manager. “These collaborations are only the beginning, and we look forward to coming up with more innovative ways to communicate the UF Water Institute’s research to wider audiences.”
TESI Outstanding Partner
UF Office of Sustainability (Sustainable UF)
Though the topics of Earth systems and sustainability naturally go together, it has been the creativity, openness, hard work, and collegiality of the Sustainable UF team that have really made our collaborative efforts easy and fun to work on. UF Office of Sustainability Director Matt Williams accepted the award on his office’s behalf.
We first dipped our toes into collaboration together by serving as marketing partners – helping to spread the word about each other’s events and programming to our respective networks.
From there, we cohosted a recurring blog series – the Action of the Month – which focused on simple steps readers could take to help the planet, from taking part in Meatless Mondays to participating in community science projects.
This past year our combined efforts really grew in number and scale. First, Sustainable UF graciously hosted a seminar for our Environmental Leaders Fellows that helped our students learn more about climate action on campus and how they could get involved. Many of our ELF students were so inspired by what they learned, that they later proposed a project to survey what their fellow students thought about climate topics in their classes and on campus.
In the spring, the Office of Sustainability invited TESI to help host their campus Earth Week – an annual effort to celebrate our planet and sustainable habits that help protect it. Events from this week included a sustainability fair, an on-campus trash clean-up and invasive species pull, and a panel of speakers from Gainesville organizations all dedicated to environmental work in our community. Putting on all of the events was no small feat, and yet working with the Office of Sustainability made it all seem deceptively easy. All of our combined efforts have been a pleasure to work on, and we look forward to continue supporting one another into the future.
Scientist in Every Florida School Outstanding Educators
Susie Hahn is a 7th-grade science teacher at Eagles Landing Middle School in Palm Beach County who, since 2019, has routinely provided scientist interactions for her students through the Scientist in Every Florida School Program. Through her coordination with SEFS, her students have learned firsthand from scientists about topics like shark science, evolution, and human impacts on our planet.
Susie has also been a teacher participant and leader in several SEFS professional development workshops, such as a paleontology-focused workshop at an active fossil locality. From these experiences, Susie subsequently wrote a grant for a 3D printer and was funded as a result. This printer enabled her to print specimens from the museum as part of a greater series of lessons on change over time and the ancient environments of Florida. Her drive to push her students to engage in science is inspiring.
Monika Moorman, a 3rd-grade teacher at Central Park Elementary School in Broward County, has proven to be a committed and dedicated teacher who always goes above and beyond to ensure her students get the best educational experiences possible.
Monika’s commitment to the SEFS program has been consistent over the past 3 years. She regularly requests scientist visits so her students are able to meet a variety of researchers, which has allowed her students to learn about science in an innovative way. Her effort to bring science into the lives of her students is a testament to how hard working Monika is.
Melissa Atkins is a middle school teacher at Tradewinds Middle School in Palm Beach County. Melissa is a passionate teacher who has inspired her colleagues and served as a cohort leader for a recent SEFS professional development workshop titled “AI Learning in K-12 with Fossil Sharks.”
During this unique experience, teachers learned how to bridge the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and paleontology in their classrooms. After the workshop, Melissa created a communication channel for support, invited new teachers to her classroom to observe, and was available whenever they needed someone to talk to. Her willingness to share her knowledge and experience has been invaluable to her cohort colleagues.
Scientist in Every Florida School Outstanding Collaborators
Dr. Julie Bokor, director of grants for Alachua County Public Schools, has worked tirelessly to encourage teachers to participate in our SEFS programs. Her efforts have not only helped to expand the reach of our programs to additional students, but have also increased scientific content knowledge among teachers.
One of the most notable ways that Dr. Bokor has supported our work is through her design of an after-school program that will connect Alachua County students with a SEFS scientist on a regular basis. We are excited about the potential impact that this program will have, and we are deeply grateful to Dr. Bokor for her leadership in making it a reality.
Erin Benavides, a resource teacher at the Silver River Museum, was recognized for her dedication to improving the natural history learning experience for students in Marion County. Her efforts have had a significant impact on the students she serves.
Erin has also played a critical role in serving as a mentor to our scientist in residence, helping to guide them and support their efforts to achieve both the Silver River Museum and SEFS missions.
Scientist in Every Florida School Outstanding Partner
The ANGARI Foundation has been an exceptional partner in advancing the SEFS mission of sharing Earth systems science, in particular, marine science. Together, we have co-developed a livestream series called the Ocean Expert Exchange. This program reaches K-12 students and lifelong learners throughout Florida and around the globe.
The ANGARI Foundation has not only co-developed our virtual programming, but they have also been instrumental in supporting our Scientist in Every Florida School teacher professional development workshops. They have worked closely with groups of teachers to create lesson plans that bring current research into the classroom. This level of collaboration has been appreciated in promoting Earth system science education and fostering a passion for ocean conservation in the next generation.
We look forward to continuing our partnership with the ANGARI Foundation and working together to spread marine science awareness and conservation for years to come.
The evening ended with the reflection that collaborations are essential to furthering TESI’s mission.
“We are thrilled to recognize our current partners and look forward to growing new partnerships in the coming year,” said Sadie Mills, TESI program coordinator.