Candidate for Member at Large: James Gawel

James Gawel

Ph.D. 1996 (Environmental Chemistry and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA)


Biographical Information

After earning a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Brown University, I worked as a Peace Corps water engineer in Kenya. It was here that my interest grew in sustainable water resource management and community engagement. Upon returning to the U.S., I worked as an environmental science educator teaching groups of children from grades 2-8, and discovered that I loved teaching and the challenge of figuring out how to reach each new group of students that showed up first thing Monday morning. I then did my Ph.D. at MIT, studying bioindicators of metal stress first in phytoplankton and then in higher plants. For my postdoc at MIT, I did my first research on arsenic fate and transport in lakes.

My scholarship now is diverse, but can be summarized as investigating chemical fate and transport in terrestrial and aquatic environments, and its implications for biota (including humans). Under this umbrella, three research themes define my contributions: (1) nutrient cycling and eutrophication in lakes affected by natural and anthropogenic disturbance; (2) fate, transport, and toxicity of pollutant metals in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and (3) outreach and education with respect to water resources and pollution.

I have shaped my scholarship around the University of Washington Tacoma’s urban serving and community engaged mission, and I have invested personal time and energy to guide the direction of that mission as well. While peer-reviewed journal articles are an important component of my scholarship, recognizing that they are critical to the successful dissemination of research within the scientific community, I have also contributed equally to reaching a broader audience through my applied research focus, student and community involvement, and disseminating results through alternative venues that have a greater impact on the citizens and policy makers not likely to read academic journals.

Candidate Statement

I am excited to have the opportunity to join the ASLO Board. I have not held any previous office or served on any committees within ASLO but I am hoping to change that with your support. However, that is not to say I have not been active in service to the profession and the community. In service to the sciences of limnology and oceanography, I have served 2 terms as President and 11 years on the Board of the WA Lake Protection Association (WALPA), a 501(c)(3) organization comprised of lake association members, scientists, educators, and local and state agency policy makers that exists to allow diverse interests to speak with one voice to protect lakes. I have served as a reviewer for 11 different academic journals, helped organize 9 regional or national scientific conferences as a member or chair of the organizing committee, consulted with several municipalities on lake management issues, and served on the technical advisory committee for the creation of Washington’s first freshwater aquatic reserve. My interests lie in community-engaged applied research and undergraduate education, and I hope to share my experience in these areas with the ASLO Board and ASLO membership, and facilitate initiatives to improve access to undergraduate education and connect science to stakeholders.

I would like to work with current ASLO member initiatives and create new opportunities for bringing the sciences of limnology and oceanography to K-12 students as a means of increasing accessibility to related degrees in higher education. One way I have worked toward this is to facilitate collaborations between K-12 teachers and university researchers to create authentic citizen science research projects. The program we have piloted is called SEARCH (Science Education through Authentic Research Collaborations with Higher-ed), which engages K-12 students in organized Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) research-based curriculum that makes it easier for teachers to incorporate this high impact practice into their state-mandated learning outcomes.

As someone teaching at an institution where the majority of our students transfer from community colleges, I have organized initiatives to build educational connections with community college faculty in order to increase access for community college students to 4-year degrees in the sciences. I am interested in ASLO helping to brainstorm more possibilities for 2+2 degree options in our fields of interest.

I have 25 years of experience working with municipal, county, state, and federal agencies and community organizations on lake, stream, and estuarine issues related to eutrophication, contamination, and public health. I have produced two documentaries to make current water resource management issues more accessible to the public and to open dialogue between academics, community members, and government agencies. I am interested in working with WALPA members to create more professional development opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students around community engagement best practices, agency stakeholder communication methods, and presentation skills for reaching non-science audiences.

I am eager to contribute to the ASLO Board and expand the impact of ASLO science in education and community engagement. I hope you will give me the opportunity to do that.

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