Middlebury Institute international environmental policy spring graduate Steffanie Munguia MAIEP ‘18 is part of a selective program that recently brought together graduate students from around the country to advocate on Capital Hill on behalf of funding for scientific research.
Munguia is one of ten U.S. graduate students to be awarded the 2018 Ecological Society of America Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award. “This experience fits perfectly with my goals for the future,” says Munguia, who will start her PhD in Earth Systems Science at Florida International University in the fall. “With my background in animal sciences, I came to the Institute with the idea to eventually work at the nexus of science and policy.”
As an undergraduate student in animal sciences and environmental science at the University of South Florida, Munguia was chosen to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) at Kansas State University. She designed and implemented an experiment which analyzed the breeding behaviors of the grasshopper sparrow, a rare grassland songbird. This research focused on documenting densities and intra-/inter-specific interactions across several habitat types. Working on this research, Munguia says her interests in human influences on landscapes and their inhabitants, specifically land use and prescribed burns as management strategies, became apparent. “Upon completing this project, I first encountered the concept of an unspoken but professionally accepted limitation imposed upon scientists which prevented them from engaging in civic advocacy.”
Her experience with NSF REU eventually led her to pursue her degree in international environmental policy at the Institute and seek a career realignment to work in a more integrating capacity at the nexus of scientific research and policy development and advocacy. While at the Institute, Steffanie focused her studies on natural resource policy and management, with a strong emphasis on sustainable approaches that balance human needs with nature conservation. “This idea struck me deeply after leading a life immersed in public and environmental advocacy campaigns. If the scientific community developed in isolation, removed from the sociopolitical applications of their contributions, it obscured sound scientific foundations and undermined global environmental policy.”