Next Generation: Suzi Spitzer

June 29, 2018

Hometown: La Grange, Illinois

Advisor: Bill Dennison, Integration and Application Network

What are you researching? I am researching ways to improve collaborations between citizen scientists and professional scientists so these groups can more effectively work together to create new scientific knowledge that answers their respective research questions and fulfills both scientific and local needs. I am also researching how scientists can engage and empower community members by encouraging collaborative learning and two-way science communication, and integrating citizen data and knowledge into the broader science discourse.

Why does it make a difference? Holistic and collaborative environmental science incorporates the knowledge and values of communities, and therefore offers us all a more comprehensive understanding of our environment. Furthermore, because this type of transdisciplinary science is reflective of the public’s needs and experiences, it is often more directly useful for addressing complex problems of immediate concern. Creating opportunities for scientists and the public to co-create integrative environmental knowledge will allow scientists to more effectively solve ecological problems, inform environmental management plans, and engage and empower communities.

How did you get interested in environmental science? Science was my favorite subject throughout school, and I wanted to be a doctor until about halfway through my first year of college. My aspirations shifted when I discovered academic scientific research, ironically, during my only non-science class that semester, “Introduction to Anthropology.” After hearing my professor enthusiastically discuss his research experiences and fieldwork, I was inspired to combine my long-standing love of nature with my newfound interest in applied research, and explore the field of environmental science and management.

Why choose the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science? I started at UMCES as a science communication intern with the Integration and Application Network and then accepted a position as a graduate assistant with IAN in January 2015. As an undergraduate student, I double-majored in Biology and Anthropology, and as a prospective Ph.D student, I searched for a program that would encourage me to develop my expertise in both fields and also support my interest in integrative, transdisciplinary research. I was initially attracted to UMCES because of the science communication and outreach work at IAN, and also because of the Marine-Estuarine Environmental Sciences (MEES) program’s emphasis on research that directly informs environmental management and policy decisions.

Share an experience that stands out most about your time with UMCES. I love travelling, so something that stands out about my time with UMCES is the conference travel that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to attend and present at conferences with varied topics including citizen science, coastal and estuarine research, science communication, anthropology, and water monitoring. It has been especially rewarding to present my interdisciplinary research in different academic and social contexts and receive feedback from people with diverse epistemological backgrounds.

What’s the most important thing people can do to help the environment? Jacques Cousteau said, "People protect what they love, they love what they understand.” I believe that the most important thing people can do for the environment is to support others’ knowledge and appreciation of the natural world.

What are your future plans? After I graduate, I would love to have a career that encourages me to build bridges between scientists and the public, and between natural and social sciences. It would be great to work with communities and synthesize diverse environmental knowledge to co-develop holistic strategies for environmental protection and improvement.