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Biologists Honor Excellence in Research, Education, and Service

June 4, 2012

 

On 1 June, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, or AIBS, honored the professional achievements of three globally recognized biologists with the AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award, Outstanding Service Award, and Education Award.

"The impact these individuals have made on biology has changed the trajectory of our science and our society, in creative, significant, and enduring ways," said AIBS President Dr. Susan Stafford.

Dr. Barbara Schaal received the 2011-2012 AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award.

Schaal is widely recognized for her pioneering research. She was among the first to use molecular biology based approaches to understand evolutionary processes in plants, and she has worked to advance our understanding of plant molecular systematics and population genetics. Research in her laboratory has also addressed issues in conservation biology, including the loss of genetic variation in isolated plant populations, and the origins of the important tropical food crop, cassava.

After learning that she had been selected to receive the AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award, Schaal stated, "it is a great honor and particularly meaningful coming from AIBS, which has done such a superb job of representing the diversity of biological sciences."

In 2005, Schaal became the first woman to be elected Vice President of the United States National Academy of Sciences, a post she still holds. Since April 2009, Schaal has served on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST. She is also the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

In addition to her research and current national service, Schaal has previously served as the president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Botanical Society of America.

Schaal received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her Ph.D. from Yale University. Prior to joining Washington University in St. Louis, she was on the faculty at the University of Houston and The Ohio State University.

Dr. Thomas Lovejoy received the 2011-2012 AIBS Outstanding Service Award.

Lovejoy is an internationally recognized champion for the conservation of biological diversity - also commonly referred to as biodiversity, a term he is credited with establishing. Lovejoy's career has been rooted in public service and could well be considered a model for scientists interested in translating biological research into environmental conservation.

Lovejoy conceived and designed the enormous ecological experiment in Brazil known at different times as the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems or the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments. The study offered a large-scale perspective on the ecology of the tropics that had not been previously considered. As a result of this work, the world was alerted to the problems of tropical deforestation, the special demands on tropical conservation, and the importance of Amazonia as a cradle of biodiversity.

At present, Lovejoy is University Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University and the Biodiversity Chair at The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. Previously, he has served as the President of The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment (2002-2008), Senior Advisor to the President of the United Nations Foundation (2001-2002), and as the Chief Biodiversity Advisor and Lead Specialist for Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank. His distinguished career has included leadership positions with the Smithsonian Institution and the World Wildlife Fund. His volunteer service with professional scientific organizations, natural history museums, and environmental and education organizations is significant. He is a past-president of the Society for Conservation Biology and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Lovejoy received a B.S. and Ph.D. in biology from Yale University.

Dr. Diane Ebert-May received the 2011-2012 AIBS Education Award.

Ebert-May has been described as one of the "go-to" people in the United States to call for expertise on teaching and learning in college biology courses. She was among the early advocates for innovation in undergraduate biology education, and has argued strongly for a scientific approach to determine how best to improve student-learning outcomes in undergraduate science courses. Ebert-May encourages her colleagues to "teach the way you conduct science so that teaching and research become naturally integrated."

For years, Ebert-May has traveled across the nation to conduct workshops that have helped faculty members begin to think about how to introduce modern teaching methods into their courses. In addition to her science education work, she maintains an active field research program on tundra vegetation ecology.

After learning that she had received the award, Ebert-May said that she was "truly honored to receive this award because it recognizes the scholarship of biology education research that my students and I have advanced for decades."

Ebert-May has authored or co-authored dozens of scholarly publications on science education or ecology. She has also been an active participant on national advisory committees and in professional scientific societies, including the Ecological Society of America and the American Society for Microbiology. Currently, she serves as Associate Editor for Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and as a member of the Editorial Board for Life Science Education.

Currently, Ebert-May is a Professor of Plant Biology at Michigan State University. From 1998-2002 she was also the Director of the Lyman Briggs School at Michigan State University. Previously, she was an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, where she directed the Science and Mathematics Learning Center. She has also been affiliated with the University of Delaware and Husson College.

Ebert-May received her B.S. in botany and secondary education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and her Master's and Ph.D. in environmental, population, and organismal biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The awards were presented during a program held in conjunction with an innovative AIBS conference that was held at The Pew Charitable Trusts' Washington, DC Conference Center. The program brought about two dozen graduate students and post doctoral scholars in the biological sciences together with the award recipients, members of the AIBS Board of Directors, and others for a unique, cross-generational conversation about the profession of biology. The program enabled a diverse group of students, early career biologists, and mid- to late-career scientists to talk as equals, promoting an exchange of ideas and perspectives.

"This unique program helped us all learn about how we can collectively move our profession forward," said Stafford. AIBS has been working to understand how professional societies can best meet and serve the needs of biologists and science educators in the years ahead. Stafford further stated: "There are a great many challenges facing society, biology, and scientific societies and organizations. This program was an opportunity to bring together those who have and will lead our science."

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