Student ResearcherGrace Breitenbeck ’21, Major: Biology, Minor: History
Student ResearcherEileen Dinn'23, Major: Government, Minor: Finance
Melissa Mukuna ‘23, Major: Government, Minor: Theatre
Faculty MentorsDr. Sara Bon-Harper, Dr. Dan Cristol, and Erica Garroutte
Given the complexity of conservation challenges, there is a need for integrative solutions that bridge disciplines and sectors to ensure that actions and policies balance biodiversity conservation with the socio-economic needs of local communities. Despite wide recognition of the benefits of integrative conservation approaches, there are few models and few opportunities for undergraduate students to work on interdisciplinary teams and to learn how to bridge disciplines to inform, implement, and evaluate practical and holistic conservation actions. More specifically, there is a growing need in the conservation field to apply an integrative lens to understand how historical legacies of social injustice influence patterns of biodiversity and land use. Further, there is a need to broaden the racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender diversity of the conservation field to ensure a greater representation of unique perspectives, experiences, and skills needed for successful, integrative conservation.
Eileen Dinn, Melissa Mukuna and Grace Breitenbeck worked with faculty mentors to develop a proposal for an interdisciplinary field station at William & Mary's Highland, 500+ acre campus at James Monroe’s Highland, that will serve as a model for engaging faculty and students in integrative conservation, sustainability, and environmental justice. Acknowledging Highland’s legacy of slavery, William & Mary has an opportunity to collaborate with Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors to understand this history and to explore how this legacy of injustice has influenced land-use practices and, thus, the patterns of biodiversity across Highland’s landscape. Further, there is an opportunity to explore the social, economic, and ecological aspects of conservation at this site to find ways that this campus can serve as an inclusive demonstration lab for undergraduate students interested in transcending the traditional boundaries of conservation to promote biodiversity protection and foster environmental and social justice.
The proposal included a summary of the opportunities for the HIghland campus to serve as a laboratory to enhance W&M educational opportunities across departments, for understanding and piloting sustainability initiatives, and for acknowledging, understanding, and starting to reconcile the role of W&M in legacies of social, racial, and environmental injustice. The proposal has been used to engage more W&M students, faculty, and community members in integrative conservation at Highland.