When Christine Pardo ’14 set out to create a club for students interested in ecological sciences in 2013, she never imagined it would achieve as much success as it has in such a short amount of time.
GLADES — or Growth of Leadership, Academics and Diversity in Ecological Sciences —provides students with a network to explore research, professional development, community outreach and leadership opportunities in ecology, an interdisciplinary field that studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. As a student chapter of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), GLADES’ mission is to diversify the ecology profession by exposing students to the field early on in their college careers.
“The majority of biology majors I had met were on the pre-med track,” said Pardo, GLADES’ founding president. “I knew early on I wanted to pursue ecology research, but felt there weren’t a lot of resources for students like me. Thanks to my mentors, I was inspired to do something about it.”
Conducting research on the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains in Peru during the summer of her junior year, the young field assistant shared her ambitions with her biology professor Kenneth Feeley and doctoral researcher Evan Rehm. Pardo credits them with giving her the confidence she needed to create what she felt was missing on campus; Feeley serves as the club’s faculty adviser.
Since its creation, GLADES has organized a variety of events and initiatives, including panel discussions and lectures on topics ranging from solar energy to climate change and sea level rise; a banquet introducing students to FIU faculty and graduate researchers and their projects; beach clean-ups and other community service events; and an adopt-a-tree program in the community.
Now in its second year at FIU, GLADES was named the ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) Chapter of the Year. SEEDS is the flagship education program of the ESA dedicated to advancing and diversifying the ecology profession through opportunities that nurture the interest of underrepresented students to participate in and lead in ecology.
Ph.D. biology student Valeria Paz ’14 traveled to Baltimore to accept the award on behalf of the club at the 2015 ESA Annual Meeting in August. Paz, a researcher in the Heithaus Lab, presented a research poster on her research on dolphin habitats in the Everglades at the meeting, her first major networking event.
“I had the chance to experience what big questions are being asked in our field,” Paz said. “There’s a lot of great research being done on topics ranging from the effects of climate change, to urban ecology and ecology on invasive species. It’s important to know what’s going on, because it can be relevant to your particular area of study.”
GLADES President Ana Rojas, an environmental studies student, hopes to expand on the club’s momentum by organizing student research panel discussions and outdoor adventure trips; partnering more undergraduate students with graduate students and faculty for mentorship and research experience in the lab and in the field; developing a program advocating for the use of renewable energy on campus; building an orchid garden on campus; and further collaborate with other student clubs on campus.
Pardo, who now works for Miami-Dade County as an environmental regulator, is still actively involved in advising GLADES. She prefers to stay behind-the-scenes, providing information and guidance to help the next generation of club leaders build the foundation for success.
“I really wanted to leave a mark at FIU before I graduated. I hope to have empowered young people to create opportunities for themselves and pursue something they love,” Pardo said. “There are so many different pathways to a career in science. I hope GLADES serves as a vehicle for young people in our community to become the next generation of environmental professionals and stewards.”