Stony Brook University graduate students Isabella Betancourt and Abigail J. Costigan, from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences’ (SoMAS) Marine Conservation and Policy program, have been selected in the Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) 2022 cohort in the Ecological Society of America (ESA). This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to participate in a virtual Congressional Visits Day.
As GSPA recipients, they will learn about the legislative process and federal science funding before meeting virtually with members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological and ecological sciences. Additionally, they will explore policy career options as ecologists who work in federal agencies will share their career paths and how a scientific background can be applied to informing policy.
Betancourt is interested in the link between science and policy and hopes to work as a science policy advisor after earning her master’s degree. She earned a BS in marine sciences at Rutgers University, focusing on issues related to the marine environment and combating the threats from climate change through effective policies. Betancourt, born and raised in Colombia, wants to serve as an example to minorities to show them that it is possible to become a scientist and make a difference in the field. For her master’s thesis, she will be going to Costa Rica in Summer 2022 to conduct research for a community-driven turtle conservation organization. She will collect and analyze data, learning the effects of climate change on such organisms, and will collaborate with the government and institutions to drive change in the policy sector. Finally, she will gain valuable experience in communicating science to a non-scientific audience in both English and Spanish.
Costigan’s current research focuses on marine protected area management and policy internationally as well as coastal habitat restoration. She is interested in how human activities influence the marine environment, and what efforts are successful in mitigating harmful effects, increasing biodiversity and promoting sustainable use. Prior to entering graduate school, Costigan conducted field work for Mass Audubon that focused on horseshoe crabs, worked at the Center for Coastal Studies teaching marine education and was a fisheries observer. She received a BS from St. Lawrence University in 2019 with a major in conservation biology and a dual minor in Asian and outdoor studies.
“It is very rewarding and encouraging to see our ESA graduate students interested in the science-policy interface and to hear directly from decision makers the importance of receiving critical information on the ecological systems that their constituents are interested in. The valuable, hands-on experience this ESA award provides these young ecologists in essential science communication and listening skills will enable them to successfully engage in the policy realm,” said ESA President Dennis Ojima.
Betancourt and Costigan are among a total of 44 students nationwide to receive the award.