It is easy for ecologists to claim deep commitment to diversity. Through our scholarship and research, we are constantly measuring the effects of diversity in the biological world, and those lessons translate directly to human social constructs. Just as a greater species diversity in nature leads to more healthy and resilient ecosystems, so does a diversity of social identities, values, experiences, and goals lead to stronger human institutions. However, these aspects of human institutions do not come about on their own, and an “open door” policy is not adequate to attract the identities and perspectives that are initially missing from our enterprise. We need to cultivate and protect our diverse assets through a conscious, positive effort. Further, recruiting under-represented groups to the workplace is not enough by itself, we must make positive efforts to retain and promote people such that they know they are valued. Of course, this is a good policy for all of our employees and stakeholders, but it is especially important for those who may feel they are outside of a traditional status quo.
I am proud of my record of promoting goals of inclusivity, diversity, equity, and access. When I was a professor at The Ohio State University, I was the AAEO officer of the Department of Entomology for several years. As Director of the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity, I initiated the Museum Open House, a weekend event in which the public was permitted to see the collections that ordinarily were available only to the scientists who worked there. For several years I received grants from Battelle to pay for buses and substitute teachers so that junior high school students from underprivileged areas of Columbus could visit the Museum on the Friday preceding the weekend event for a focused experience designed just for them. At Powdermill Nature Reserve, I built a 300-foot long ADA-compliant woodland trail and moved more than 30 species of native woodland wildflowers to the trailside such that people in wheelchairs or walkers had access to the woodlands despite mobility issues.
On a level differing from public outreach, I ran workshops to train young scientists in Mexico and Brazil for 10 years, totaling more than 300 students. Back at home in Pennsylvania, I won grants to host workshops in methods of ecology specifically for Latin American students with instruction in both English and Spanish, running for nine years until COVID-19 suspended the program. This program won the 2015 Human Diversity award of the Organization of Biological Field Stations. Most recently, I partnered with a religious organization, Summer’s Best Two Weeks, that hosts at-risk underprivileged urban youth for summer programs in a rural setting. Our partnership was designed to study how urban youth respond to an instructional Augmented Reality app we are developing to bring the natural world into the classroom. Our goal is to transform the school gymnasium into any of several ecosystems that students can explore, and it is necessary that we see the experience through their eyes as we develop it.
Our strongest institutions will promote a diversity of programs of activity. A healthy intellectual environment will include a mix of teaching, research, self-discovery, and exercise for both mind and body. This requires a thoughtful design and practice. Carefully balanced diversity, whether it is our human capital or our scholarly effort, is the key to success.