A Fellowship for Global Change

Paul Taillie

Ever wondered about the effects of climate change or what you can do about it? Masters and Ph.D. students at NC State are tackling the most pressing issues surrounding climate change and how to take an interdisciplinary approach to solving the complex problem through their research and graduate level studies.

Currently, three of the 2016-2017 Global Change Fellows are College of Natural Resources Ph.D students: Karly Bitsura-Meszaros, Wilmer Reyes and Paul Taillie. The Fellows program provides not only financial, but also scientific and professional development support to students as they take on the issues surrounding climate and global changes. Support is provided through NC State and the Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Science Center (SE CSC), which is one of eight regional Climate Science Centers in the country providing information, tools and techniques to land, water, wildlife and resource managers who try to anticipate, monitor and adapt to climate change in their regional area.

Two College of Natural Resources Global Change Fellows, took a few minutes to talk about how graduate fellowships support their studies and impact their research.

Tell us a little bit about your studies and your research.

  • Karly Bitsura-Meszaros
    Karly Bitsura-Meszaros

    Karly Bitsura-Meszaros (K B-M): I am currently a Ph.D. student in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. I graduated from NC State in May 2015 with an M.S. in Natural Resources. My research focuses on the ways global climate change can affect protected natural resources and tourism, and the social factors that play a role in visitors’ perceptions of these changes and their likelihood to support climate-related strategies enacted by federal agencies. I also received the Provost Doctoral Recruitment Fellowship from NC State University during my first year as a Ph.D. student (2015-2016).

  • Paul J. Taillie (PT): My research focus is on wildlife ecology and conservation with the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology graduate program. My undergraduate focus and school was Cornell University Engineering. My major was called Geological Sciences, but it was basically Environmental Science.

How will the Global Change Fellowship impact you?

  • K B-M: Being a Global Change Fellow has impacted me in a few ways. Our fellowship cohort is made up of students who all study climate change from different disciplinary backgrounds. It’s been great to interact with them and learn new perspectives on this global problem. Aside from financial support, the fellowship provides numerous professional development opportunities that I would have not been exposed to otherwise. As an example, this past summer our cohort traveled to the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia for a week to participate in an introductory course on structured decision making (SDM).
  • PT: The biggest impact is the interaction with other fellows and faculty. I’ve been exposed to lots of different ideas and perspectives from other disciplines, with which I previously had little interaction. 

Why is this graduate fellowship important?

  • K B-M: This fellowship is important because global climate change is a complex and serious issue. The fellowship provides students with the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary climate research, and in turn we can enhance our own disciplinary understanding of the impacts associated with climate change and guiding climate response.
  • PT: This fellowship is important, largely because of climate change, but also because of the many other ways humans are impacting the planet. Today’s world is extremely dynamic and the future is highly uncertain. This fellowship supports students that are investigating these changes and developing creative solutions for the associated challenging environmental problems.

What will you be doing as part of your Global Change fellowship?

  • K B-M: I am working on a multi-faceted project that is focused on climate change at Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO) in North Carolina. I am currently working on analyzing data from a survey that was administered to visitors this summer to better understand their awareness of and concern about climate change, as well as their attachment to vulnerable historic buildings located on the barrier islands at CALO. Later this semester, I will be working on two more surveys to collect insights on adaptation strategies for these historic structures: one with members’ of CALO’s partner organizations and one with historic preservation and cultural resource experts. Findings from these separate studies will be used to inform climate adaptation planning decisions at CALO, as it is unlikely that all historic buildings can remain on the landscape in perpetuity.
  • PT: I plan to investigate how land management actions may facilitate landward migration of saltmarsh communities, which provide important habitat for several sensitive and declining wildlife species. Because these systems occur along a narrow range of environmental conditions, they are vulnerable to the projected rise in sea level associated with a warming global climate. By investigating the altered successional dynamics resulting from saltwater intrusion associated with sea level rise, I aim to evaluate the feasibility of using prescribed fire and climate suitable planting to facilitate upslope migration of marshes, which is likely essential for the persistence of these systems in the face of climate change.

What do you plan to do after you complete your graduate program?

  • K B-M: After I graduate with my Ph.D., I hope to become a Social Scientist for a federal agency, such as the National Park Service, where I can work on projects to address climate-driven change in protected areas.
  • PT: I plan to continue asking interesting questions. Exploring answers to those questions are the most engaging parts of my work, and as such, I hope to keep doing research.

What has your experience been like as a College of Natural Resources graduate student?

  • K B-M: It is great to be a graduate student in the College of Natural Resources because all the departments work well together and foster an interdisciplinary environment. There are excellent student organizations housed in our college that bring us all together. Overall, it is just a very welcoming and supportive environment.
  • PT: After completing my master’s degree in the College of Natural Resources, I’ve gone on to do my Ph.D. here as well, so perhaps that is the best reflection of my experience in CNR so far.  Currently, I’m working on a project that involves all 3 departments. This project has fostered collaboration throughout the college, and as a result, I’ve had the pleasure with working with a number of faculty and students throughout the college. It has been an extremely rewarding experience. You can find out more about this project at our website: http://ncsu-salt.weebly.com/.

Why would you recommend your College of Natural Resources Ph.D program to other students?

  • K B-M: I think we have one of the best recreation and tourism graduate programs in the nation, largely because of our diverse professors who are experts and leaders in numerous Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management-related fields. Many opportunities were provided to me in this program, such as funding for conference travel, involvement in numerous aspects of research and a diversity of research projects, and professional and social networking. PRTM graduate students are a closely-knit group, and, along with our supportive professors, really feels like a family.
  • PT: One of the biggest strengths of the College of Natural Resources is diversity. My committee is comprised exclusively of faculty from the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, yet their expertise range from wildlife ecology, statistics, hydrology and forestry.  When you consider the other two departments (Forest Biomaterials and Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management) as well, the diversity of ideas, research and perspectives is impressive and touches on virtually all aspects of natural resources management. The education and experience gained as a student are thus similarly diverse and comprehensive.

Any advice for future College of Natural Resources graduate students?

  • K B-M: Be in the business of opening doors, even if you don’t believe you’ll ever go through them and take advantage of the opportunities thrown your way.
  • PT: I could talk forever about choosing a graduate program, but often it just comes down to timing. As such, I would advise prospective students to be patient and hold out for a program that is a good fit and that you’re excited about.