Aeroecology as a Test-bed for interdisciplinary STEM Training

nsf-logoThe United States has built tremendous infrastructure for remotely measuring many aspects of the Earth’s physical environment to provide specific benefits for society (e.g., satellites, radars, telescopes, cameras, etc). The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has challenged the scientific community to expand the uses of this Earth observation infrastructure to generate new knowledge and provide additional societal benefits beyond those that were initially envisioned. One potential new benefit is to use existing Earth observation data in ways that will aid in biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. This National Research Traineeship (NRT) program addresses this challenge by developing and testing a new model for training students to use existing Earth observation data in new approaches to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. The traineeship program will implement and evaluate an interdisciplinary coursework program in Earth Observation Science for Society and Sustainability (EOS3) and an interdisciplinary research immersion program in the emerging discipline of aeroecology.

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EliAeroecology, the interdisciplinary study of interactions of animals, humans, and technologies in the lower atmosphere (aerosphere), is emerging from the interface of biology, meteorology, geography, and computer science and has strong connections to social sciences both through environmental science and concerns about human health and safety. Engineering advances are transforming the aerosphere from a vast open space into a resource that we use for communication (cell phone towers), energy production (wind turbines), and transportation (aircraft and unmanned aerial systems (UAS)). These mounting incursions into the aerosphere drive a need to understand and manage a new suite of human-biodiversity interactions and conflicts. This NRT program builds on unique strengths of the training consortium in aeroecology as a rapidly growing new use of Earth-observation data; making it an ideal test-bed for a new model of interdisciplinary education.

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NRT_group_photoThe NRT originates at the University of Oklahoma, is replicated at the University of Delaware, and at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and then radiates to additional statesand institutions with exiting expertise and interest. Each consortium institution has an existing core in aeroecology that will allow replication of required elements of the training programs. The NRT model includes training in communication, data analytics, and team-based science skills, entrepreneurship, and an externship. Each participating institution is committed to fostering diversity through implementation of best practices for inclusiveness in recruiting, retaining and mentoring of graduate students. Rigorous evaluation of the impact of the NRT on student learning, faculty development, and institutional change will inform future efforts to broadly improve interdisciplinary graduate education.

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