With a $1 Million NSF Career Grant, Andrew Reinmann Aims to Understand Fragmented Forests

February 9, 2022

Reinmann will study how temperate forests respond to climate change and being fragmented by farming and development and will offer a paid research training fellowship for CUNY students.

Andrew Reinmann
Andrew Reinmann

Professor Andrew Reinmann (GC/Hunter, Earth and Environmental Sciences/Geography and Environmental Science), whose lab is part of the Environmental Sciences Initiative at the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center, was recently awarded a $1 million, five-year National Science Foundation CAREER Grant for a project that will study how temperate forests respond to climate change and “fragmentation” — becoming broken up into smaller areas by agriculture and development. Temperate forests remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than any other terrestrial ecosystem, yet they are also the most fragmented, which may increase their vulnerability to climate change and put their ability to serve as the planet’s lungs at risk.

Reinmann also has a secondary goal in his project: addressing significant barriers to inclusion in environmental biology. He recently spoke to the Graduate Center about his work.

The Graduate Center: What advice would you give to junior faculty members who are looking to obtain a CAREER grant?

Reinmann: In writing this proposal, and getting feedback from more senior colleagues who have gone through this process, I learned that the integration of research and education is really important. A lot of academics and scientists are used to focusing on the research part, and sometimes how that interacts and engages with the education components of our career is a little less clear to us, or maybe doesn’t come as easy as the research piece.

I would encourage folks who are thinking about applying for grants to take that step back and view it from a more holistic perspective, and not just view it as: What’s the key important scientific question that you want to ask? Of course, that’s essential, but for this grant program, and arguably for all of our research, we should consider how asking and answering that scientific question could also be used as a tool for educating future generations of scientists.

Reinmann Students
Professor Andrew Reinmann (second from left) with students at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire

GC: One of your project’s goals is to address barriers to inclusion in environmental biology. How to you plan to reach out to students from groups that are less represented in your field?

Reinmann: As an undergraduate, I went to SUNY Binghamton, a state school. But we had a really wonderful nature preserve right on our campus, so we didn’t need to go anywhere to get experience learning about nature, conducting ecological research. We had a living laboratory, and that was my entry point to science.

One of the reasons that I chose to come to CUNY is because of CUNY’s mission to provide a great education to students who might not have other opportunities for higher education, and to elevate people out of poverty. Being able to work with a diverse group of students has been wonderful for me; I learn a lot from that. And I hope to be able to give back to those students as well. In my time here, I’ve learned a whole lot about some of the barriers our students face in pursuing a career in science.

My vision is to have CUNY not just be this amazing force for elevating people out of poverty, but also an amazing force for helping to diversify what science looks like. And I think a key to that is getting students early in their college education exposed to ecological research.

Many students don’t have the luxury of being able to volunteer in Alaska. Many of our students are working part or full time while going to college, and if they’re going to spend time doing research, it can’t compete with their financial needs. Also, many live with their families and have caretaking roles that keep them from being able to spend extended amounts of time away from home, but a lot of ecological research happens outside of New York City. And then, of course, most of our long-term ecological research sites are in sparsely populated, rural areas that are mostly white. That’s different than what our student body looks like, and it can be difficult for someone who’s spent their whole life in New York City to “see” themselves in those locations and feel comfortable applying for a job in a rural, remote area.

I hope to use this recently funded project to make it easier for our students to gain the hands-on research experience that is so important to their development as scientists. In particular, each year I will recruit two or three CUNY students to participate in a paid research training fellowship. We will work with the students to co-develop a research experience that meets their needs and interests. Our hope is that providing a well-paid research position and recruiting students in groups will remove some barriers to participation, encourage peer-to-peer learning, and foster a comfortable and meaningful immersive research experience. Read more