UTSA program targets future leaders in environmental science and ecology

Dr Benjamin TuggleCreated in 2005 by Excelencia in Education, Examples of Excelencia is a national initiative that recognizes institutions and nonprofits that identify, aggregate, and promote evidence-based practices that improve Latinx student success in education. superior. The four entities recognized this year cover a diverse geographic area, but they share a mission to uplift their communities while creating a broader impact in terms of education and workforce. These entities fall into the following categories: associate level, bachelor’s level, graduate level, and community organization. Here is a profile of the institution recognized as an example of Excelencia at the graduate level: Master of Science in Environmental Science at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The Master of Science in Environmental Science at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is part of the Tuggle Scholars program, which is dedicated to mentoring and training graduate students who aspire to become leaders in science environment and ecology.

Named for Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, former Deputy Director of Science Applications at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the program supports students through research, writing, and science communication activities that develop their communication skills and in presentation.

“Faculty and staff have observed many of the barriers that limit Latinx students and other students of color that may hinder their ability to pursue graduate programs,” says Dr. Janis Bush, professor and director of the department of integrative biology at UTSA.

“I would categorize our support into three pillars,” Bush said. “One is holistic mentoring where we are available to try to validate and promote a sense of belonging among students. Second, we try to have an inclusive curriculum and ensure that we have experiential learning opportunities to facilitate the development of their scientific identity. And the third is financial support to ease the burden of the degree cost.

Dr Janis BushDr Janis BushBush says that when the program began to take shape, she and other professors envisioned that in addition to receiving mentorship from faculty and other scientific researchers, students would serve as mentors for each other. . Wanting the program to have an identity, Bush reached out to Tuggle, hoping the students would see themselves in him a bit. He insisted that while the program carried his name, he wanted to be fully associated with it. Tuggle helped develop the curriculum and experiential learning activities and established a scholarship.

Tuggle says that while he held senior positions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he was baffled and frustrated by the lack of diversity in the boardroom when decisions were made on environmental issues and public lands. . Together with Bush, he wanted to give graduate students an edge over certain government agencies because of their experiences in the program and their demonstration of scientific ethics.

“We want to bring visibility not only to the fact that we’re trying to increase DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), but we’re also trying to shine a light on the University of Texas at San Antonio who have a modified curriculum to specifically handle these types of opportunities for their students,” says Tuggle. It sets up experience opportunities with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of Agriculture, United States Geological Survey and other agencies.

“These are the types of opportunities that I think when given to minority kids, especially STEM kids, the opportunity to be exposed to these careers, they will take off like a rocket if they know that there are careers they can pursue,” Tuggle says.

Another aspect of the Tuggle Scholars program is to include family, friends, and community. Although less frequent since the pandemic, there are social events. The goal for families is to understand the process and accept the rigorous path of higher education that the student undertakes.

Rather than the often-seen survival of the best-fit approach to STEM education, Bush says they’ve tried to build a culture that encourages students to meet where they are. Faculty met with experts—researchers who have studied underrepresented minorities in STEM—who guided faculty on effective mentorship.

“Now it’s a culture,” Bush says. “Holistic mentorship is supportive and it’s at all levels – it’s between peers, staff, faculty, and like-minded external collaborators.”

Science communication skills are also essential, especially in writing. Bush says it helps them complete a dissertation and build a scientific identity.

Rodriguez praised the program’s ability to bring employers and students together to work on pressing issues locally and nationally. “When they have these strong connections to employers, they see their graduates placed, and then their graduates are a connection to alumni and they become the supervisors and managers of these spaces,” she says.

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