Monday, April 21, 2014

ESF women take first and second place in the Slepecky Undergraduate Research Competition

Katy Austin, an EFB undergraduate honors student has won first prize in the Slepecky Undergraduate Research Prize.  She was awarded the prize for a manuscript based on her honor's thesis "Effects of Nitrogen Deposition on Nitrogen Acquisition by Sarracenia purpurea in the Adirondack Mountains, New
The experimental green roof, located on
top of Con Edison's The Learning
Center.  Image credit: Tiziana Susca, Columbia University

Image credit: Tiziana Susca
York, USA".  The study is in review at the journal Botany.  Austin is first author.  Her co-authors include Mark Teece, and Jesse Crandall from ESF's Chemistry Department, and Amy Sauer and Charley Driscoll, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University.

Cambria Ziemer, an ERE undergraduate honors student tied for second place honors.  Ziemer completed her honor's thesis the past summer on "Boundary Layer Conditions of a Shrub Willow Evapotranspiration Cover Syracuse, NY". She worked with Wendong Tao, in ESF's Department of Environmental and Resource Engineering, and Tony Eallonardo, a Scientist with O'Brien and Gere.

The award presentation followed a lecture by Dr. Patricia J. Culligan of  Columbia University, on Green Roofs and Urban Stormwater Management, which featured projects under evaluation at Columbia University and around New York City.  Dr.  Culligan is a leader in the field of water resources and urban sustainability.  In addition to being a Professor, she co-directs the Columbia University Earth Institute’s Urban Design Lab and is the director of an innovative, joint interdisciplinary Ph.D. program between Columbia Engineering and the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation that focuses on designs for future cites, including digital city scenarios.

The Slepecky Lectureship and Undergraduate Prize has been endowed by family, friends and colleagues to honor Syracuse University professor Norma Slepecky, who died in 2001. Dr. Slepecky was a distinguished auditory neuranatomist and member of the Institute for Sensory Research.  She was a passionate researcher and an advocate for undergraduate student research. Dr. Slepecky hoped that her legacy, with the support of the endowment, would continue to encourage young women to conduct research. As stewards of the Lectureship and Prize, SU WiSE annually coordinates the undergraduate award and lecture by a noted woman scholar and a celebration in Dr. Slepecky’s memory.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Great Lakes – Today’s Issues and Tomorrow’s Concerns

As part of the course requirements for FOR797, Environmental Career Strategies for Women, students share responsibility for reporting on  WiSE Professions Events.   The following was prepared by Becki Walker, a MS student in the Graduate Program in Environmental Science.  Becki's studies are focused on Environmental Communication and Participatory Processes.

On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, members of the ESF campus community listened in fascination as Professor Helen Domske described a truly “hands on” experience with one of her research subjects – a sea lamprey.  Her lecture, “The Great Lakes – Today’s Issues and Tomorrow’s Concerns,” was part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series.

In order to learn more about the invasive eel-like creature from a parasitized fish’s perspective, Domske submerged her arm in a tank of cold water for twenty minutes (in order to mimic the body temperature of a cold-blooded creature) and had an associate place a lamprey on her arm.  “You could see the indentations from each of its individual teeth!” Domske said, with the excitement in her voice that is the hallmark of a scientist truly immersed in her research.   Sea lamprey were only one in a parade of invasive creatures Domske discussed in her presentation.  

The Great Lakes are a special ecosystem, but they are threatened by a number of factors.  Invasive aquatic animals such as quagga and zebra mussels, round gobies, and water fleas (as well as the aforementioned sea lamprey) are wreaking havoc in the ecosystem.  Invaders compete with native species for food and habitat, and are even capable of altering the nutrient composition in the Lakes. 

Some of the emerging threats to the Lakes are thanks to another species – humans.  A recent study of water quality in 139 streams conducted by the US Geological Survey identified 82 contaminants in the water column.  Contaminants included a number of prescription drugs, ranging from anti-seizure medications to estrogens from birth control pills.  Personal care products such as face and body washes are also part of the problem – many of these contain tiny plastic “microbeads.”  Because these microbeads appear similar to eggs, many fish may consume them by mistake.  Microbeads also tend to attract other contaminants, posing additional problems for aquatic species.

Domske’s presentation wasn’t all doom and gloom, though – she provided some concrete ways we can all work to protect the Great Lakes.  We should remember we all live in a watershed, and avoid flushing any prescription medications that could wind up downstream.  She also suggested seeking out natural alternatives to personal care products containing plastic microbeads.  Through relatively simple actions such as these, we can help to insure that the Great Lakes remain worthy of their name.

Helen Domske is a Senior Extension Specialist for New York Sea Grant/Cornell Cooperative Extension and Associate Director of the Great Lakes Program at the University of Buffalo.  She is also the Education Coordinator of New York Sea Grant and the New York leader for the Center for Great Lakes literacy. She holds an MS degree from SUNY Buffalo, and has completed post-graduate coursework at Ohio State University and the University of Buffalo.  Her lecture was sponsored by the Great Lakes Research Consortium and the ESF Women’s Caucus. 

For more information about the WiSE Professions Speaker Series, please visit

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Perceptions of women and power

The Society of Women Engineers Greater Syracuse Section, The Baobab Society, ESF Office of Multicultural Affairs and ESF Women's Caucus gathered for a showing of Miss Representation.  
The 2011 documentary was written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom about the perception of women in mainstream media--TV, movies, magazines, and advertising--and its impact on young people.  Commentators also discussed how these portrayals impact the representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.  Film is rated TV-14 by the OWN network, and is recommended for 13 and up by Common Sense Media (their parent panel suggested 16 and up, because of some strong language and portrayals of sexuality.  

Its a disheartening look at the increased pigeonholing of half the population as bitches or sexy bimbos, with nary a role in between, and a reminder that not only do our children, all of our children, need to see more women in positions of influence in real life, but also at every life stage as the heroines and the everyday folk in fictional portrayals rather than only beauties in their reproductive prime as part of the scenery or the punchline (if portrayed at all).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dr. Paige Warren speaks about human influences on species interactions in urban communities

As part of the requirements of FOR 797, students share responsbility for reporting on speakers in the WiSE Professions Speaker Series. The following was prepared by Amanda Gray, Amanda Pachomski, Jennifer Potrikus, Emily Van Ness, and Qing Ren.

Dr. Paige Warren, Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at U Mass, Amherst, presented her research as well as the research of several collaborating scientists on human influences on species interactions in urban communities at ESF on Thursday, February 6, 2014. This presentation launched three spring SUNY College of Environmental Professions speaker series: Women in Scientific and Environmental (WiSE) Professions, GraduateStudent Association (GSA) Speaker Series, and Adaptive Peaks. The Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, GSA and the ESF Women’s Caucus jointly co-sponsored the seminar.

Dr. Warren discussed findings from five different cities (two in the Western US (Fresno,CA and Pheonix, AZ) and three in the Eastern US (Boston, MA, Baltimore, MD, and Raleigh, NC)) that looked at human influence as the dominant mechanism of species presence and interaction in urban communities. She determined that for the cities in the Western US, water use is the main driver of species presence and interaction; for the cities in the Eastern US, forest cover is a more important driver. Other human-driven factors are also at work in each city and so the actual role of species interaction in determining community structure is still unclear.

The most direct human influence on species presence and interactions in each city relates directly to the two driving factors mentioned previously. Landscaping decisions in each city has a huge affect on which species appear in urban areas and the species interactions within the urban areas. In the western city of Phoenix, AZ where water is the major driving factor, there is a stark contrast in types of yards, largely dictated by neighborhood. There are xeric yards which are drier and support native and non-native vegetation similar to the surrounding flora of the region, and then there are mesic yards which are wetter and more lush that support some native, but mostly non-native vegetation that is very dissimilar to the surrounding vegetation. These different vegetation types support different types of animal species and can therefore influence the presence and interactions of species in the city. In the eastern city of Baltimore, MD, where the primary driver is forest cover, a direct correlation was seen between the canopy cover and amount of dead branches in the area and the number of woodpeckers present.

Under these more direct human influences, there are a variety of human influences that are likely to be interacting with the primary driver in each city that affect species presence and interaction. For example, in Phoenix, there was a pattern seen between the income level of a household and the type of food being fed to birds. The higher income families often left nectar and thistle for birds, which attracted more specialist bird species, whereas lower income families often left bread crumbs, which attracted more generalist bird species. The resulting consequences of these different food types include differences in species richness, competition, and the giving up densities of the birds at each location. Dr. Warren’s research looks at wealth as well as many other social science factors such as policy, institutional investment, consumer tastes and lifestyles to try and untangle the complex association of humans and the unban ecosystem.

Dr. Warren received a B.A. in biology from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in Zoology, from the University of Texas-Austin. Before she joined the faculty at U Mass, Amherst, she served as a Research Scientist at Virginia Tech and a Post Doc in the Biology Department and Center for Environmental Studies at Arizona State University. Dr. Warren was also recently on sabbatical as a Visiting Scholar in the School of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

For upcoming lectures at ESF, please visit the College Calendar at

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Conversations in Equity and Excellence: Sex, chromosomes, and Success

Joan Bennett, a fungal geneticist at Rutgers University, delivered Friday’s “Conversations in Equity and Excellence” lecture on “Sex, chromosomes, and Success” at Syracuse University.  She began with a simple reminder that “girls and boys are usually distinguishable from one another at birth.”  But many differences from that point are socially or culturally imposed, including dress (little bows and earrings on infant girls), dueling in Germany (until banned by Hitler), foot binding in China, Thailand’s brass neck rings, and corsets (and the damage they caused to internal organs) in western countries. Current trends in plastic surgery are a modern version of this. 
Fig. 1.  Percentage of Women on Physics Faculty by Country.
“Biology matters!  But so does culture” she continues.  Women’s roles in society have been largely defined by biology, and in their relationships to men.  Even outside of family, there have historically been few opportunities for work:  prostitute, wet nurse, maid, and nun.  Midwifery was noted as the most respected position, but with limited opening.  In the sciences, women found places in agriculture, textiles and pottery.  Things began to change with the industrial revolustion when physical strength became less important, and when Queen Victoria and Empress Cixi held positions of power.  Educating women became more common, although not universal.  In WWII, women were called upon to “do the work that he left behind”  And the single most important factor that improved choices for women:  birth control.  “Its hard to have an intellectual life when everytime you have sex you risk getting pregnant.”  She notes that most methods were not common, or legal into the 1960s.  Among her own cohort, friends dropped out of college when they became pregnant and married.  Through this time, the fields open to women were nursing, teaching and library science.  Most other tracts were, and still remain, male dominated.  Women’s Colleges became havens.  And through the second wave feminism of the 60s and 70s, many women “stayed at home, but planted seeds in their daughters.”

"Now, women dominate undergraduate programs, but they remain stubbornly underrepresented in STEM fields."  She displayed a chart showing the % of women comprising Physics Faculty ca 2005, and dismisses the notion that women’s genetic composition varies that markedly between geographically close countries, confiding that culture must have something to do with it as well.  

In terms of success, Bennett introduces bias and gender schemas with a quote by Sally Kempton,  “It's hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”   She referenced the1970s study which demonstrated that far more women are offered orchestral seats when those auditioning are screened from those ranking them, and the 2012 PNAS articled that revealed that science faculty still harbor subtle biases that rate John higher than Jennifer, offer him a higher salary and more mentoring, despite identical (save first name) of the fictional applicants.   

The current hurdle that women must face is that in ‘traditional’ homes, each two adult household had a wage earner, and someone to take care of everything else:  2 people, 2 jobs.  But dual career couples also require someone for the unpaid work.  It doesn’t make sense to “just train men to take up more at home” because it’s a lot more work for both partners.

Figure 2.  Equitable expectations?
Bennett also points to the cumulative disadvantage of micro-inequities outlined by Virginia Valian’s integration of psychology, sociology, economics, and neuropsychology in Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women (MIT Press, 1998).

What can we do?  “Organize!  Be aware!  And provide visibility to women who have achieved” by nominating for awards and other distinctions ( ), and writing Wikipedia entries. Mentor. 

Figure 3.
Use Humor.  For instance, 2001 Sexist Geek Alive Ellen Spertus joked about her lack of sports prowess (but participation nonetheless), and donned a bodice built from circuit boards and holstered a slide rule on her thigh.  Her talent?   Teaching the audience to count in binary on fingers. 

 “If Humor doesn’t work, try glamour” pointing to Danica McKellar’s popular press math books .

Be aware of embedded media messages like “Saucy Feminist that Even Men Like.” (Time magazine cover, May 7, 1971, featuring Germaine Greer), or Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 feature in The Atlantic WhyWomen Still Can’t Have It All”  .  “Why doesn’t anyone ask this about men?  If you can’t substitute [the word] men for women, there is an embedded message” says Bennett. 

Do good science.  And celebrate the positive societal forces, rather than dwelling on the negative ones. 

When the talk turned to Q&A, SU Advance director Marie Garland inquired about what policies have helped Rutgers faculties deal with the “3rd job”?  “Rutgers has wonderful tenure extension polices, but it hasn’t been good about child care.”  They do finally have limited on-campus infant care options. “ It isn’t the institutions place to dictate how families handle their situations,” but she reminds us that “it’s OK to hire someone else to clean, and perhaps pay the woman, as it most certainly will be a woman, more than she’d receive at McDonalds and pay her social security [contribution].”  The final question “Are women and minorities still overburdened [and under credited] with committee work?”  Yes.  She praised Stanford’s time banking system for rewarding extra teaching and committee service, and is intent  to help faculty find both work-life and work-work balance (  Credit can be exchanged for other things such as clerical assistance or meals to be brought home for their families.  “Quite a few men are taking advantage of the meal service.”   (Note:  the University of Central Oklahoma’s offers a more limited scope “Merit-Credit” system that rewards teaching, scholarly/creative activity, or service with support toward it.

For more about SU ADVANCE, please visit:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ESF opens Nursing Mother's Room, 313 Baker Lab

On July 23, 2013, ESF designated Room 313 Baker Hall as a dedicated room for nursing mothers. After some minor adjustments, the room now has a chair, outlet and occupancy sign, and is only lockable from the interior, meeting NYS Department of Labor requirements for such a room--once they bring in a table. Although this room (after a few modifications) will meet requirements for employers to provide a private place to express milk for infants for their first 3 years, Tim Blehar, Department of Human Resources, assures us that any mom, including visitors and full- and part-time students, is welcome to use it for nursing or pumping.  No one will check the child's birthdate, and no reservations are necessary--just let yourself in, slide the occupancy sign to 'occupied', lock from the interior, and reverse steps when you are done.  Users must provide their own pumps and bring their expressed milk with them in their own cooler or to a food-safe refrigerator.

The administration has pledged to either upgrade the plumbing to a more functional sink and counter and the lock so that it meets ADA requirements, and/or to find an alternate location on campus that has those capacities, and is more centrally located.  They also liked the idea of putting up a bulletin board for moms to share information.  Please contact the Human Resources office at 470-6611 if you notice that this room requires maintenance, or if you have any questions.

On a related note, there is a changing table located in the newly completed family restroom in the basement of the Gateway Building.

UPDATE:  Administration was unable to locate a better space, so have been repairing walls and readying to replace the floor basin with a counter height sink and cabinet. UPDATE 1/6/14:  Renovations seem complete! Counter and sink are functional, there is a second, more easily accessible outlet, a facade now covers the previously exposed pipes.  They have even added a mirror, which both adds brightness and helps Moms check that all their buttons are lined up before heading back out (boy, that would have been handy for me!)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Revitalizing Baltimore: A better city through environmental discovery

As part of the course requirements for FOR496/797, students share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Olga Shevtsova

Jackie Carrera, president and CEO of Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, concluded ESF’s 2013 Women in Scientific and Environmental (WiSE) Professions Series with Revitalizing Baltimore: A better city through environmental discovery on Tuesday, April 23. The seminar was jointly sponsored by the Graduate Student Association and the ESF Women's Caucus.

Parks & People began with the idea that there is one park, a city within a park, that is, rather than many parks within a city as the greenspace and corridors provide a network for a healthy community.  Ms Carrera discussed problems in the city of Baltimore, including significant property abandonment as a result of suburban sprawl, lack of opportunities for young people, stream erosion and non-point source pollution, uncoordinated approaches to natural resource management. These examples demonstrated the urgent necessity of the Urban Resources Initiative which works towards sustainability through applied ecosystem management principles. This working group learned that “Urban greening programs influenced the health of the city—they bring people together in a way they are not used to working together.  This increases their social capital, enabling them to take on bigger community issues like schools and crime.  They also have an economic benefit by increasing property values.” 

Carrera also focused on the power of partnership between governments at all levels, nonprofits, academia, businesses, and communities. Defining the most important steps of planning process through discussion of how to meet the goals and how they’ve changed is a key to achieve urban ecological restoration. The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) has enhanced increased public support of scientific research. Parks & People Foundation affords opportunities for BES scientists to communicate their knowledge for practical application in community organizing and public policy. Initiating different workshops, annual meetings, trainings and science presentations all contributed to the project’s success.  It is imperative that on the ground management strategies use sound scientific approaches; and that science research is informed by practical needs. The process “is established, then fixed, then tweaked, in an iterative way” to assure that everyone at each level are at the same table.  

Watershed 263 is a classic example. "The city had an unfunded mandate to clean up pollutants flowing into the city.   This watershed featured lots of impervious surfaces, a lot of city owned land, and significant but dispersed open space. What, they wondered, would happen if they could reduce the asphalt?  The removal of back parking lot of Franklin Square Elementary School, coupled with other projects increased the area available for infiltration."

Good Science is the key, and a technology committee capable of communicating science with practitioners, is the tipping point.

About Jackie Carrera
Jackie Carrera has been instrumental in the development of a 15-mile urban greenway, community forestry and watershed restoration programs numerous youth sports and camp programs which continue to be integral to the revitalization efforts of some of that city’s most underserved communities. She also chaired Revitalizing Baltimore, a US Forest Service urban and community forestry project and is a co-principal investigator for the Baltimore EcosystemStudy, a National Science Foundation-funded, long term ecological research project.  Ms. Carrera represented the Chesapeake region in preparing for the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative and the Urban Waters Initiative.  She served on a national task force initiated by the US Forest Service, Vibrant Cities and Urban Forests: A National Call for to Action. Ms. Carrera was voted one of the Daily Record’s Maryland’s Top 100 Women and 100 Most Influential Marylanders by The Maryland Daily Record and was named the 2008 University of Baltimore Distinguished Social Entrepreneur. Ms. Carrera is a graduate of the Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Program and the Weinberg Fellows Program. She earned a BA, Business Administration degree in Finance from Loyola College in Maryland.

For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit