One reason the National Park Service does so much of its research through agreements (instead of contracts) is because agreements provide support and experience for the next generation of scientists and scholars. Or, as we often call them, students.
Last year, the Chesapeake Watershed Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CW CESU) kicked off a new Student Research Fellowship program and we are pleased to introduce you to the four incredibly talented individuals who received fellowships for calendar year 2024.
Christopher Blume is a Ph.D. candidate in Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He was nominated by Dr. Mark Ford, who is conducting a project designed to assess the status of residual populations of threatened northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis) in Rock Creek Park (ROCR). Bats are extremely important to many ecosystems. However, habitat loss in rapidly changing environments, like urban areas, and novel diseases like white nose syndrome, are challenging bat population survival.
Christopher plans to expand on Dr. Ford’s research by investigating how other factors common to urban parks, like light pollution, affect bat populations. According to Dr. Ford Chris’s initial work is already helping to inform endangered species management at ROCR. Chris has also worked closely with communities of color in urban green spaces in the National Capital Region (NCR). His research goals include increasing community engagement, diversity, and accessibility to urban green spaces. Chris also participated in bat research as a masters student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and as an undergraduate at the University of Delware. He is a graduate scholar with the Virginia Tech Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program and serves on the Smithsonian Community Educator Advisory Board. He has volunteered with the Baltimore Bird Club and the Baltimore Forest School and was awarded the Baltimore Museum of Industry 2023 Redefining Industry in Baltimore Award.
Erin Geibel is currently completing her M.S. in applied ecology and conservation biology from Frostburg State University (FSU). This fall she began the University of Maryland’s Marine Estuarine Environmental Studies (MEES) program for her Ph.D., where she is advised by Drs. Tom Serfass and Matt Fitzpatrick.
Erin’s work is being conducted in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (CHOH) where she is studying the value of these types of regional conservation areas to carnivores, like black bears, river otters, fishers, bobcats, and long-tailed weasels. She is using remote detecting cameras, often referred to as “camera traps”, to detect these carnivores and will analyze the data collected to identify factors that contribute to or inhibit use of corridors, like CHOH, by carnivores. The funding from the fellowship will support her research for a full year. She also plans to use this opportunity to mentor underrepresented students pursuing degrees in wildlife and fisheries biology at FSU through field work and data management experiences. Erin is a Resident Director of the Residence Life Office at FSU and was an Assistant Director of the New York State Department of Environment Conservation’s Environmental Conservation Camp in 2022. She was awarded a FSU Foundation Opportunity Grant, the Richard A. Johnson, M.D. Scholarship for Graduate Students in Natural Resources, and an FSU Graduate Research Project Grant. In his nomination, Dr. Serfass mentioned that Erin’s work has been designed to promote development of public education with CHOH interpretive staff as a basis for better informing the public about the role of the canal in conserving carnivores throughout much of Maryland.
The third fellowship recipient for 2024, Phillip Warfield, is an American history Ph.D. candidate at Howard University. He was nominated by Dr. Ashley Preston, who is working with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to complete a Cultural Landscape Report for the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (Council House) in Washington, DC. This additional funding will allow Phillip to adapt research from the main project to refine a nomination of the Council House, a prominent African American historic site, to the National Register of Historic Places. The Council House was the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and also the residence of Mary McLeod Bethune, a world-renowned educator, civil rights advocate, presidential advisor, and leader of women.
Phillip’s visual arts experience will lend itself well to the National Register of Historic Places application and the project will help bring subject matter expertise and a local community connection to the documentation of the Council House. Phillip has worked with the Legacies of American Slavery Initiative since 2021 and also completed an internship in the summer of 2023 with the DC History Center. He was also the cinematographer and director of photography for “Beyond the Green Wave”, a documentary produced in 2022 through the Pulitzer Center with journalist Natalia Pérez-Gonzalez about the rise of Afro-femininism in the Dominican Republic. In addition to his work on the Council House project, Phillip is also a graduate assistant in Howard’s History Department where he is working with faculty on the Just Futures Initiative, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to facilitate the development of a Social Justice Certificate (SJC) program.
The final 2024 fellowship recipient is Liv Winnicki. She is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Liv was nominated by Dr. Ruth Van Dyke, who is the lead on a CW CESU project that is conducting inventory and assessment of archaeological resources within the Chaco Culture National Historical Park outlier units (CHCU). Chaco Canyon in New Mexico served as a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture between 850 and 1250 AD and was central to the origins of several Navajo (Diné) clans and ceremonies. Chaco Canyon is known for its ancient massive stone buildings, called great houses. Chacoan influence extended beyond the physical boundaries of Chaco Canyon throughout the San Juan basin and there are a number of great houses that share many of the same features as those found in Chaco Canyon in these discontiguous areas, referred to as outlier units. This inventory and assessment project will help inform NPS’ planning for visitor use areas and interpretative programs in these outlier units so that they may be better protected and preserved. Dr. Van Dyke’s work in 2023 located 23 ancient Pueblo sites, but she and her team also found evidence of intensive occupation of the area between 1800 and 1980 by two Navajo (Diné) families. Navajo people and their histories are often marginalized by archaeological research. Local Diné consider the research area to be one of their clan origin locations, but the scope for the CESU project does not include documenting the more modern Diné families.
This fellowship will provide support for Liv so that she may build relationships with Diné people, help them tell their stories, and learn more about Navajo clan origins. She will direct archaeological mapping of the extensive Manuelito and Coyambito settlements located in the NPS project area. Liv’s work will help rectify some of the marginalization experienced by Diné peoples on ancient Chacoan landscapes. In addition to this research, Liv also works as a teaching assistant for the Anthropology Department at Binghamton where she has led lab sections of Introduction to Archaeology and assisted with other courses in linguistics and archaeology. During the summer of 2022, Liv was a Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Field Intern in Cortez, CO where she assisted in excavation at the Haynie Site and helped teach college field school students. In 2023, she was recipient of the Cordell Powers Prize for a presentation entitled: “In the Groove: Alternative Functions for Sharpening Grooves in the Pueblo Southwest.” She also earned 3rd place for the Cordell Powers prize in 2021. The Cordell Powers Prize is a speaking competition for young archaeologists in honor of Linda Cordell and Robert Powers. As an undergraduate student at Appalachian State University, she volunteered in the landscape archaeology lab. She also spent a semester abroad and worked at the Canne’s Archeaological Center’s ceramic restoration lab in Florence, Italy.
Last year, in an effort to increase student engagement with CW CESU projects, the NPS National Capital Region Office (NCRO) provided extra funding for a fellowship program. (A 2022 CW CESU survey identified budget constraints as a factor limiting opportunities for students to participate in projects.) The fellowship program helps better engage students in the work of the CESU and, in addition, provides opportunities to improve justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) across the CW CESU network.
The fellowship program was directly advertised to principal investigators (PIs) of active CW CESU projects during the fall of 2023. PIs were asked to submit a nomination for any student with whom they wanted to work. The nomination supplied information about the work that the student could perform, as well as their academic and professional history. Due to the funding source, projects from the National Capital Region were assigned priority in the selection process. Projects that received further consideration were any related to tribal communities, other underrepresented individuals and institutions, or projects with a climate change or diversity focus. The CW CESU received a large number of competitive nominations for talented and impressive students and wish that funding was available to support them all.
We plan to offer three more fellowships for calendar year 2025 and will be reaching out to PIs with active projects again to solicit nominations in the fall of 2024. If you applied but were not awarded a fellowship, we encourage you to apply again.
In early 2026, the CW CESU plans to host a virtual student research symposium where fellowship recipients and any other students who worked or are working on a CW CESU project will be invited to present their work to the CW CESU community. The symposium will provide a great professional development opportunity for our students as well as an opportunity for members of the CW CESU network to learn more about ongoing research and other projects.