UC Merced

A Recipe for Change: Beth Mitchneck to Speak on Gender Equity in Higher Ed

The next lecture in the Chancellor’s Dialogue on Diversity and Interdisciplinarity series will be from Beth Mitchneck, vice provost for Faculty Success at UMass Lowell. The dialogue is designed to bring notable scholars to campus to present current issues within higher education. On Monday, March 11, Mitchneck will present “Institutional Change for Equality: A Recipe for Change.”

Mitchneck oversees the development of faculty success in scholarship and instructional activities in her role at UMass Lowell. She will present a framework for institutional transformation to help universities become more gender equitable. Mitchneck and her co-authors of “Recipe for Change: Creating a more inclusive academy” review the literature on institutional change to promote faculty diversity. They propose essential features necessary for successful change and a more diverse workforce.

Mitchneck has a dual research focus on gender equity in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as migration and displaced populations with an emphasis on countries of former Georgia and Ukraine. Mitchneck, also a former lead program officer for the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, draws upon her own experience managing gender equity programs to highlight and focus on the importance of shared networks for achieving equity goals.

She has published numerous articles in the popular press about her research and gender issues in venues such as Science, Foreign Affairs online, The Hill, and U.S. News & World Report, and is quoted in numerous articles about gender equity in STEM.

All are invited to the event taking place in the Student Services Building, Room 160 from 3:30–4:30 p.m., with a reception to follow in Classroom and Office Building 2, Room 290. Register today.

Study: Tiny ‘Ecosystem Engineers’ Are an Overlooked Source of Carbon Dioxide Emissions

It’s estimated that a leaf-cutter ant colony can strip an average tree of its foliage in a day, and that more than 17 percent of leaf production by plants surrounding a colony goes straight into their giant, fungus-growing nests.

It’s no wonder these ants are referred to as "ecosystem engineers" by scientists because of the effects they have on the environment around them.

That’s why Professor Thomas Harmon, a founding faculty member with UC Merced’s School of Engineering and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Environmental Systems doctoral student Angel Fernandez-Bou are studying the implications of leaf-cutter ants on soil CO2 dynamics in the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica.

“We’re focused on understanding the impact of a dominant member of the soil fauna, leaf-cutter ant Atta cephalotes, on soil CO2 dynamics in tropical rainforest ecosystems,” Harmon said. “We know little about the overall contribution of leaf-cutter ants to the carbon cycle.”

Their findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, could help inform studies of global carbon cycling.

Fernandez-Bou and Harmon worked with an international research team at La Selva Biological Station, part of the Organization for Tropical Studies, to quantify the CO2 emissions coming out of those nests. The team started collecting data in 2015 and studied 24 different spots — nests, non-nests and abandoned nests — over the course of 2 1/2 years.

Some of these nests were large enough to fill a normal sized classroom.

The study found leaf-cutter ant nests provide alternative transport pathways to release soil CO2 — increasing total emissions and decreasing soil CO2 concentrations. Air vents act like chimneys and push out an average of 10,000 times — and up to 100,000 times — more carbon dioxide than untouched soil.

“The nests are a ventilation system, a pathway for CO2 to get out,” Fernandez-Bou said. “That’s the difference. The leaf-cutter ants change the concentration of CO2 through the vents.”

The ants keep the soil open through vents in their nest, which leads to significantly more CO2 output compared to the forest without a nest. It is estimated that 1 percent of the forest has ants. They contribute nearly 0.5 percent of total forest carbon dioxide emissions.

“We need to have a grasp on what other species are contributing while we manage the human parts of the problem. The number of hot spots could higher than we thought before and increasing over time, and we must take that into account,” Harmon said. “We’re in an era when we must account for and reduce carbon emissions.”

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the campus’s Public Relations team. To contact the team, email PR@ucmerced.edu.

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