Jordan Karubian named winner of 2012 Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement

Jordan Karubian has been awarded the 2012 Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement. The award recognizes early-career faculty who practice exemplary engaged scholarship through teaching and research. Recipients are selected on the basis of their collaboration with communities, institutional impact, and high-quality academic work.

Central to his work as a community-engaged scholar, Jordan Karubian, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University, has developed a multifaceted community-based program to enhance stewardship of the environment and the welfare and conservation capacity of local residents in Northwest Ecuador, which has one of the highest concentrations of both species diversity and human populations, is considered a “conservation hotspot,” a focal point of the growing environmental crisis. The research at the heart of this effort is carried out by undergraduate and graduate students, Ph.D.-level biologists and community members—“hunters-turned-researchers”—who have a deep knowledge of the natural history and basic biology of the endangered species under study. Over the course of several years, the local researchers, or “Environmental Ambassadors,” have become proficient in experimental design, data collection, computer literacy and public speaking. The knowledge generated from the research is actively used by reserve managers, community members and the Ministry of the Environment and is fundamental to local and regional outreach and educational programs, as are the Ambassadors themselves. Karubian explains that, “[t]hese individuals are highly respected men and women [who] give back to their communities by changing local values and promoting sustainable practices. They make regular presentations on environmental themes to adults and children; host ‘hands-on’ events to educate about their research and provide opportunities to harmlessly interact with local flora and fauna; and make regular visits to schools. These approaches are more effective than efforts by outsiders and we have witnessed significant shifts in local attitudes and behaviors directly attributable to this program.” Dr. Karubian is currently replicating this model of engaged research, teaching and service in Papua New Guinea, where he is testing the efficacy of community-based knowledge generation through an analysis of descriptive data on patterns of participation and outcomes.

The project’s approach to research, teaching and service suggests a shift from “community-engaged” to “community-centered” faculty work and, in areas such as Northwest Ecuador that are under siege on multiple fronts, the continued success of the project requires the involvement of like-minded faculty from a range of disciplines. Even as community members realize that it is in their best interests to protect the environment, Karubian recognizes that “they face stark economic choices, which often force them to make sub-optimal decisions in the name of short term economic necessity…. In the future,” he explains, “I hope to collaborate with colleagues who have expertise in sustainable development, social science and environmental economics to expand the model of engaged scholarship we currently have up and running in the ecological sphere.” Karubian’s research has been recognized with a prestigious International Research Experience for Students (IRES) grant from the National Science Foundation, which provides funding for 21 students from under-represented groups to conduct independent research in Australia in interaction with local residents, students and researchers.