CSU could serve as a model for other universities looking to broaden participation for students.
Bowser, a scientist in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, has led fieldwork projects for students during the summer for the last 12 years. She has guided teams on a BioBlitz, where researchers, students and citizen scientists visit a national park and count as many species as possible in 24 hours.
She has secured funding for these activities from the National Science Foundation. This includes a partnership with the CSU-led Colorado-Wyoming Alliance for Minority Participation, comprised of more than a dozen higher education organizations.
“We work primarily in national parks,” Bowser explained. “We don’t need or use expensive equipment; students can use cell phones. Their innate ability to become scientists has dramatically changed in the last five years with new technology.”
Students are passionate about saving the environment and climate change, which means they don’t have to be sold on becoming citizen scientists.
“They’re there, and we just have to open the doors and let them in,” Bowser said.
From a science perspective, Bowser sees this as the “democratization” of science.
She is currently leading a new project in partnership with the National Park Service to look at ways to understand pollinator decline potentially caused by climate change in national parks and protected areas. The public science project engages park staff and visitors to document pollinators – bumble bees and butterflies – using citizen science tools.
Her team hopes to educate the public on the importance of pollinators in parks and protected areas through this work, which requires grassroots efforts to document these small insects in urban and remote parks.
“The bumble bee in Central Park is as vulnerable to climate change impacts as the same bee in Yellowstone National Park,” Bowser said. “Connecting people to pollinators is such an important goal for understanding climate change impacts on our national parks, our food systems and well-being.”