AUNE Alum Wins Prestigious NSF Funding

Kelly Biedenweg, MS ’05, has received highly competitive post-doctoral funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a Science Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Fellow. She will be funded for two and a half years of work with the Natural Capital Project.

The Natural Capital Project is a consortium between Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Federation, and the University of Minnesota. It helps organizations develop natural resource management plans and scenarios based on the concept of ecosystem services, or the benefits of ecosystems to humans.

For the project, Biedenweg is looking at ways to spatially, qualitatively, and quantitatively measure social and cultural services provided by the ecosystem. Social and cultural services are intangible benefits of ecosystems such as spirituality, social bonding, and artistic sensibilities.

As part of her work, Biedenweg, based in Washington State’s Puget Sound, is working on management plans for three projects in the Puget Sound basin by:
• Developing social indicators for the Puget Sound Institute and Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s Integrated Watershed Management Plan;
• Defining cultural services indicators that The Nature Conservancy and the Quinault Indian Nation can monitor alongside their salmon restoration project; and
• Developing a web-based mapping platform for gathering landscape values on the Olympic Peninsula, for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Biedenweg will also facilitate workshops in which social scientists and land managers involved in the projects can share experiences and develop innovative tools together. Two master’s students, funded by The Nature Conservancy and Puget Sound Institute, help her with the projects.

NSF had also funded Biedenweg’s research for her doctoral degree from the University of Florida-Gainesville, for which she studied social learning between campesino communities and support organizations in the Bolivian Amazon. She published articles from that work in Human Ecology, Society and Natural Resources, and Conservation and Society.

AUNE’s place-based education
When she came to AUNE, Biedenweg had worked internationally for five years. She hoped to focus more on the United States, and was excited by AUNE’s emphasis on place-based education. “I am a very independent student and was intrigued by AUNE’s alternative education format,” she said. “Also, as a social scientist in resource management with an interest in learning, I was curious about how nontraditional education styles influenced learning in adults.”

Once she joined AUNE’s Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (CTEC), though, she realized it was Latin America that still held her. So she did her master’s work in Honduras, which eventually led to her PhD on Bolivia.

“Had it not been for CTEC, I may not have pursued a PhD at all,” Biedenweg said. “But I did. And it has given me the opportunity to become place-based in exactly the place I want to be: the Puget Sound. I live on Vashon Island, twenty minutes by ferry from Seattle and ten minutes by ferry to Tacoma. It is a dream come true.”