Airy Peralta and Jared Collins are the recipients of the first INSTAAR Graduate Community Awards. The award is a new honor that recognizes students who expend substantial effort in activities that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the INSTAAR community and as representatives of INSTAAR. Nominations can come from any member of the INSTAAR community and are evaluated by the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Task Force.
Airy Peralta is a PhD student (EBIO) studying the ecology of threatened and endangered species, particularly pikas, with Dr. Chris Ray. She is a leader in activities that bring science to underserved communities and elevate our collective ability to address ecological problems through science for all. She frequently engages with college and K-12 students who speak Spanish as their first language, serving as a STEM ambassador and mentor.
A few highlights of her activities include mentoring students in both the Research Experience for Community College Students (RECCS) program and the University Research Opportunities Program (UROP), applying her own experiences as a former student at Front Range Community College. She helped her mentees develop research skills, including programming for data analysis and grant writing.
She helped train a cohort of 150 community scientists collecting data on American pika habitat occupancy throughout the Front Range, which helps us understand local climate change and its impacts, in collaboration with the Denver Zoo and Rocky Mountain Wild.
Peralta spoke in both English and Spanish to nearly 100 Casey Middle School students who were either recent immigrants to the United States or English language learners about her path to becoming a scientist and the importance of science for conservation. She spoke to an equal number of third and fourth grade students at the STEM Launch event in Thornton on endangered species. As part of her Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research requirements, she developed a game to engage elementary school students in predicting species ranges.
In addition, she wrote several successful grant proposals totaling more than $20,000 to support transitioning the landscaping around her housing development in Lafayette away from a typical lawn and toward a community of native plants, using her education at CU to increase community awareness of ecological issues and reducing her neighborhood’s reliance on water and pesticides.
Jared Collins is an MS student (EVEN) whose research with Dr. Diane McKnight focuses on harmful algal bloom detection in urban reservoirs. He is committed to bringing science to underserved groups and to the communities where research is based.
As part of his research, Collins has collected samples from Wonderland Lake in north Boulder each month using a drone. He has engaged thoughtfully with community members, passers-by, K-12 students, and many other members of the public who are curious about and interested in the status of their lake. He has also coordinated his work with the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks resource managers, giving information about the types of algae in the lake and whether or not they may contain cyanotoxins within 24 hours of sampling.
Collins also led a project to repurpose 1400 misprinted copies of Counting Caribou, a children’s book that presents an Alaska native narrative about caribou migration. Jared worked with three undergraduate students to correct and localize the books for Colorado by adding cards on wolf dispersal and mule deer migration. He has worked with faculty and staff in Engineering and the CU Office for Outreach and Engagement to distribute the books to underserved schools in southwestern Colorado. In addition, he has worked with others within INSTAAR and its partners to find outlets for the books, such as Native American communities in Colorado, attendees of public talks about pika given by Chris Ray, and teachers in Denver schools.
The awards were given to Peralta and Collins at a gathering on Wednesday, where INSTAARs celebrated their contributions. Dr. Bradley Markle, who led the selection process and presented the awards, said, “I’m extremely impressed by how much both these students have contributed to the INSTAAR as well as the broader scientific and local communities. They make our institute a better place to be!”