Program News

The founding director of the Voss Program, Prof. Heather Leslie, has been selected as a 2015 Leopold Leadership Fellow. Based at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Leopold Leadership Program provides outstanding academic environmental researchers with skills and approaches for communicating and working with partners in NGOs, business, government and communities to integrate science into decision-making.

This year’s fellows come from 16 institutions in Canada and the United States. They will receive intensive leadership training to help them engage effectively with leaders in the public and private sectors who face complex decisions about sustainability and the environment.

“The 2015 Leopold Leadership Fellows are generating new knowledge that is critical to answering the central question of our time: how to preserve Earth’s vital systems while providing the resources that support human wellbeing, including food, water, energy, and fiber,” said Leopold Leadership Program Co-Director Pamela Matson, Dean of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “The Leopold program will help the fellows gain skills, tools, and approaches they need to contribute their knowledge most effectively to finding solutions.”

To learn more about Heather’s plans for the Leopold year, read her recent blog post….


Elizabeth Castner at ESAReflecting on the 99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

For scientists, conferences are times of communication, collaboration, and celebration. They come to share their work and ideas and meet old and new friends and collaborators. A conference is a good time to step back and reflect on the relevance of one’s work and learn from other scientists. This August, I attended the Ecological Society of America’s 99th annual meeting in Sacramento, CA to present my senior thesis research.

As a first-time attendee, this convergence of more than 3,000 scientists was both exciting and overwhelming, because of the sheer number of events and range of topics. At check in, I declined the textbook size paper guide to the conference (in favor of the newfangled app), but did accept the famous ESA tote bag, which has been the official conference swag for a very, very long time. Perhaps since 1865.

A few things I learned during the week: city lot maintenance is a public health issue, because of ragweed; delta smelt (a fish endemic to Northern California) smells like cucumber; the ROTC advice of “Be sincere, be brief, be seated” applies to science communication; the trees outside the convention center in Sacramento are painted blue as part of a project bringing awareness to global deforestation; and poster sessions are tons of fun.

One of my biggest takeaways from this conference was getting to see the nebulous “scientific community” in action. There were talks aplenty on current research, but I also got the chance to attend sessions about interacting with policy makers, promoting interdisciplinary research, presenting science to varied audiences, and developing new tools for teaching. These talks made more of an impact on me than many of the research talks because they provided insight into how scientists and others working at the intersection of scientific and policy domains think about ecology. That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I begin to navigate my post-undergraduate path.

Another great thing about the conference was getting to talk to scientists at different stages of their careers. I always want to know how people got where they are and what it’s really like to be, say, an associate professor or to work for a non-profit organization. I think anyone in my position would benefit from that kind of networks. So fellow alums and current students, I encourage you to attend conferences and build your professional network, whatever your field of interest.

– Elizabeth (Izzy) Castner

Class of 2014 (ScB in Environmental Science), Brown University


Izzy’s ESA trip was supported by the Voss Environmental Fellows Program, The Rathmann Family Foundation, and her generous family.


To network with current and past Voss fellows, contact Heather_Leslie(at) to join our Facebook group.

The Voss Environmental Fellows Program is delighted to announce the five recipients of the 2014-2015 fellowships. Celebrate the accomplishments of the current cohort and Brown’s commitment to engaged scholarship, training, and practice by joining the Fellows and friends at the Urban Environmental Lab garden on Wednesday, April 30 from 4 to 530 pm. RSVP to Heather_Leslie(at)

Join students and faculty engaged in environmental research and practice in UEL 106, 135 Angell St., on Thursday, January 30 at noon to learn about research and funding opportunities for Summer 2014. Tips for successful applications to the Voss Environmental Fellowship and other programs inside and outside of Brown will be discussed, along with strategies for finding a faculty or external mentor. Refreshments will be served. Don’t miss it!

Voss fellows and affiliates presented their final projects at the UEL in Wednesday, May 1 and welcomed the 2013-2014 fellows to the Voss program. Meet the graduating Voss group and stay connected through our Facebook site, Voss Environmental Fellows at

We were very fortunate to have Dr. Pamela Matson of Stanford University visit with the Voss fellows and other members of Brown’s environmental research community earlier this week. Dr. Matson, who is the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, gave a public talk on her decades of research on sustainable agriculture while on campus, and also engaged in an exciting series of conversations with the Voss Fellows and others about the science and practice of sustainability.

Dr. Matson investigates the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements between soil, water, and atmosphere, focusing primarily on the effects of land use and climate change in tropical forest and agricultural systems.

Her recently published book, Seeds of Sustainability, synthesizes much of the science and lessons learned through the placed-based interdisciplinary environmental scholarship she led over the last 15+ years Sonora, Mexico. In addition to conveying the excitement of the scientific discoveries related to biogeochemistry and coupled human-agricultural systems, the edited volume offers invaluable reflections on the opportunities researchers have to engage in use inspired research, and the challenges of working in a context where the goals include not only scientific discovery but also linking knowledge with action.

Learn more…

Join us to learn more about Summer 2013 research funding through Voss Environmental Fellows and other undergraduate fellowships on Thurs., October 18 at 12 noon in Room 106 of the Urban Environmental Lab (135 Angell Street, Providence, RI).

Voss Environmental Fellows funds Brown students (rising seniors) to undertake use-inspired research projects during the summer between their junior and senior years. Students receive a $3500 stipend and a research fund to support a project addressing a research question that informs environmental policy or practice. Fellows are co-advised by Brown or Brown-MBL faculty member and the end user of the research, with the goal of producing new knowledge that is both scientifically valid and useful in improving environmental policy or practice.

The program is open to students and faculty from all departments. The application (which is due in February) requires a well-developed project concept, so we encourage applicants to start finding mentors and developing a project early.

New info on poster design

The Voss Environmental Fellows Program is delighted to announce the seven 2012-2013 fellowship recipients: Natividad Chen, Emma Dixon, Hannah Miles, Rebecca Rast, Mary Alice Reilly, Elizabeth Ryan, and Katherine Siegel. These seven young women, rising seniors at Brown University, will be conducting engaged environmental research projects in collaboration with Brown faculty and community partners in the coming months, with the support of the Voss program.

Additional support for their work will be provided by Brown’s Environmental Change Initiative and Center for Environmental Studies, as well as the Henry David Thoreau Foundation, and Brown’s Dean of the College’s Undergraduate Research & Teaching Awards and the Beckman Scholar Programs.


Please join us for a celebration of these new fellows and the current cohort on Wednesday, May 9 at 4 pm at the UEL: 135 Angell St., Providence.


Learn more now about the current fellows’ projects

In 2012, the fellows tried their hands at video production – a sometimes challenging, but effective medium for communicating with many audiences. Three teams of students developed 90-second videos to capture a message related to their projects, their passions, and their roles as scientist-translators. Take a few minutes to enjoy their products and let us know what you think.

I am a Scientist
Produced by Voss Fellows Carmen Tubbesing, Lee Stevens, Morgan Ivens-Duran, and Veronica Clarkson

Why Do You Care about the Environment?
Produced by Voss Fellows Kara Kaufman, Shae Selix, and Spencer Fields

Save a Shark
Produced by Voss Fellows Marcy Cockrell, Caitlin Brisson, Bridgette Black, and Kara Woo