Washington, DC - The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to announce that Corinn Rutkoski and Renee Collini have been selected as the 2020 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA) recipients. The EPPLA recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated leadership skills and an aptitude for future professional success working at the intersection of science and public policy.
Corinn Rutkoski is a doctoral student in integrative biology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. She recently received a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program to study how the incorporation of native prairie plants in agricultural fields influences soil health. Rutkoski conducts research at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and has also contributed to research projects at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. Rutkoski earned her BS in environmental science from Loyola University Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
Renee Collini is a doctoral student at Mississippi State University in Biloxi, Mississippi, where her research focuses on understanding the coastal impacts of sea-level rise. As a program coordinator of the Northern Gulf of Mexico Sentinel Site Cooperative, a partnership funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Collini facilitates the integration of sea-level rise science into coastal decision-making through a multi-state network of stakeholders, researchers, NGOs, and state and federal agencies. Collini received her MS in marine science from the University of South Alabama and her BS in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Both awardees are active in their professional communities. Rutkoski has been instrumental in organizing visits for lawmakers at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station to educate them about the research being conducted in their district. She has previously participated in the annual AIBS Congressional Visits Day during which she met with her congressional delegation in Washington, DC to advocate for science funding. Collini works as an extension educator of climate science at Mississippi State University and is facilitating a collaboration between a coastal engineering researcher and the Town of Dauphin Island to develop adaptation strategies to prevent island breaching as sea levels rise. She has been actively involved with the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization focused on education and empowerment. Collini has lead community discussions with coastal residents, elected officials, and municipal staff on sea-level rise science, impacts, and mitigation options through the Sea-Level Rise Resilience Dialogues.
Rutkoski applied for the EPPLA because it “provides scientists with an opportunity to make their voices heard by individuals in decision making positions.” She looks forward to sharing her experience as a scientist with her congressional delegation. “Engagement between scientists and policy professionals is mutually beneficial” notes Rutkoski. Importantly, it provides scientists with the opportunity to share relevant information with policy makers.
Collini views the award as an opportunity to expand her “science to policy communication skills” and share her experience of integrating science with actions at the local level. “Science is rarely simple; it is the exploration of complex issues and phenomena that spans generations of research and researchers,” says Collini. “Someone responsible for everything that happens in their district or state from potholes to hurricanes cannot be expected to have the time or background knowledge to comprehensively digest and apply research. We need scientists to support policy makers, helping them contextualize findings from the best available science to the decisions at hand.”
This is the seventeenth year that AIBS has recognized graduate student achievement through the EPPLA program. “I am impressed each year by the outstanding leadership we see from graduate students across the nation,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS Executive Director. “I am even more pleased to see how many of our past award recipients are actively shaping science policy today through careers in government, non-profit organizations, and in university science departments.”
Rutkoski and Collini will travel to Washington, DC, in April to participate in an AIBS science communications training program and to meet with their members of Congress as part of the annual AIBS Congressional Visits Day.
AIBS is the national organization dedicated to promoting informed decision-making that advances the biological sciences for the benefit of science and society. The EPPLA program is one way that AIBS builds the capacity of the scientific community to promote sound decision-making.
The EPPLA program is made possible by the generous financial support of AIBS donors.