A graduate education framework for tropical conservation and development

A graduate education framework for tropical conservation and development
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  Conservation Education  A Graduate Education Framework for TropicalConservation and Development  KAREN A. KAINER, ∗ † ∗∗ MARIANNE SCHMINK, ∗ HANNAH COVERT, ∗  JOHN RICHARD STEPP, ∗ ‡EMILIO M. BRUNA, ∗ § JONATHAN L. DAIN, ∗ SANTIAGO ESPINOSA, ∗ § AND SHOANA HUMPHRIES ∗ † ∗ Tropical Conservation and Development Program, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida, 319 Grinter Hall,Gainesville, FL 32611-5530, U.S.A.†School of Forest Resources and Conservation, University of Florida, 210 Newins-Ziegler Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-0410, U.S.A.‡Department of Anthropology, University of Florida,1112 Turlington Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7305, U.S.A. § Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, 110 Newins-Ziegler Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-0430, U.S.A.  Abstract: Conventional graduate training related to tropical conservation and development has typically separated the two fields, with students focusing on either conservation from the perspective of the biophysical  sciences or development as an extension of the social sciences. On entering the workforce, however, graduates find they are required to work beyond disciplinary boundaries to address the complex interconnectivity be- tween biological conservation and human well-being. We devised a framework for graduate education that broadens students’ skill sets to learn outside their immediate disciplines and think in terms of linked socioe- cological systems, work in teams, communicate in nonacademic formats, and reflect critically on their own perspectives and actions. The University of Florida’s Tropical Conservation and Development program hasadopted a learning and action platform that blends theory, skills, and praxis to create an intellectual, social,andprofessionallysafespacewherestudents,faculty,andotherparticipantscancreativelyaddressthecomplex challenges of tropical conservation and development. This platform operates within a nondegree-granting pro-  gram and includes core courses that are taught by a team of biophysical and social scientists. It incorporates arange of alternative learning spaces such as student-led workshops, retreats, visiting professionals, practitioner experiences,andaweeklystudent-ledseminarthatcollectivelyencouragestudentsandfacultytoenhancetheir  skills and systematically and thoroughly reflect on program activities. Challenges to the described approachinclude increased service demands on faculty, a redefinition of research excellence to include effective and equitable collaboration with host-country partners, and the trade-offs and uncertainties inherent in more col- laborative, interdisciplinary research. Despite these challenges, growing interdisciplinary programs, coupled with adaptive educational approaches that emphasize learning and action networks of students, faculty, and  field partners, provide the best hope for responding to the emerging challenges of tropical conservation and development. Key Words: alternative learning spaces, collaborative research, host-country partnerships, interdisciplinary ed-ucation, learning platform, problem-oriented research Un Marco de Educaci´on de Posgrado para Conservaci´on y Desarrollo Tropical Resumen: El entrenamiento convencional de posgrado relacionado con la conservaci ´ on y el desarrollo trop- icalsehacaracterizadoporsepararalosdoscampos,ylosestudiantesseconcentranyaseaenlaconservaci ´ ondesde la perspectiva de las ciencias biof ´ ısicas o en el desarrollo como una extensi ´ on de las ciencias sociales. Sin embargo, al ingresar al mercado de trabajo, los reci´ en graduados se encuentran con que requieren trabajar m´ as all ´ a de los l ´ ımites disciplinares para abordar la compleja interconexi ´ on que existe entre la conservaci ´ onbiol ´ ogicayelbienestarhumano.Desarrollamosunmarcoparaeducaci ´ ondeposgradoqueampl ´ ıaelconjuntode destrezas de los estudiantes para aprender afuera de sus disciplinas inmediatas y pensar en t ´ erminos de ∗∗ email Paper submitted September 29, 2004; revised manuscript accepted February 8, 2005. 3 Conservation Biology Volume 20, No. 1, 3–13 C  2006 Society for Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00356.x  4 Graduate Education for Tropical Conservation Kainer et al.  sistemas socioecol ´ ogicos interconectados, trabajar en equipo, comunicar en formatos no acad ´ emicos y reflex- ionar sus propias perspectivas y acciones cr ´ ıticamente. El programa de Conservaci ´ on y Desarrollo Tropical de la Universidad de Florida ha adoptado una plataforma de aprendizaje y acci ´ on que combina la teor ´ ıa,destrezas y praxis para crear un espacio intelectual, social y profesionalmente seguro en el que estudiantes, profesores y otros participantes puedan tratar los complejos retos de la conservaci ´ on y desarrollo tropical concreatividad. Esta plataforma opera en un programa que no otorga grado e incluye cursos troncales a cargo deun equipo de cient ´ ıficos biof ´ ısicos y sociales. Incorpora una variedad de espacios alternativos de aprendizajecomo talleres conducidos por estudiantes, retiros, profesionales invitados, experiencias profesionales y un sem- inario semanal conducido por estudiantes que estimula colectivamente a estudiantes y profesores para queincrementen sus destrezas y que reflexionen sobre las actividades del programa sistem´ atica y profundamente. Los desaf ´ ıos de este programa descrito incluyen el incremento en la demanda de trabajo de los profesores, unaredefinici ´ on de la excelencia en la investigaci ´ on para incluir colaboraci ´ on efectiva y equitativa con socios en pa´ ıses anfitriones y las incertidumbres inherentes a la investigaci ´ on en equipo e interdisciplinaria. A pesar deestos retos, los programas interdisciplinarios, conjuntamente con m´ etodos educativos adaptables que enfati-  zan las redes de aprendizaje y acci´ on de estudiantes, profesores y personal de campo, proporcionan la mejor esperanza para responder a los desaf ´ ıos emergentes en el campo de la conservaci ´ on y desarrollo tropical. Palabras Clave: educaci´on interdisciplinaria, espacios alternativos de aprendizaje, investigaci´on en equipo,investigaci´on orientada a problemas, plataforma de aprendizaje, sociedades de pa´ıses anfitriones Introduction  When asked whether an independent India would fol-low the British pattern of development, Mahatma Ghandireplied, “It took Britain half the resources of the planetto achieve this prosperity. How many planets would acountry like India require?” The challenge of addressingthe seemingly contradictory objectives of environmen-tal conservation and economic development is particu-larly urgent in tropical countries, which often have both high biodiversity and some of the world’s lowest stan-dards of living. In tropical America, rapidly expandinghuman populations, widespread poverty, and economiesstrongly dependent on natural resources make these re-gions and their inhabitants particularly sensitive to thesecoupled environmental and socioeconomic dynamics.Thiscomplex,interrelated,andrapidlychangingworldhas motivated universities to rethink the educational ex-perience of society’s future leaders. In the United States,and perhaps more so in developing countries, public in- vestmentinhighereducationispredicatedonacollectiveexpectation of a return of knowledge and technology for thebenefitofsociety(Lubchenco1998).Somehaveartic-ulated that a new social contract is in order for science ingeneral (Lubchenco 1998) and for institutions of higher education in particular (Duderstadt 1999).Conventional graduate training related to tropical con-servation and development has typically separated thetwo fields, with students focusing on either conservationfromtheperspectiveofthebiophysicalsciencesordevel-opment as an extension of the social sciences. Separatingthese fields has its academic merits and is desirable insome cases. Many graduates, however, find that on enter-ing the workforce they are required to work beyond theboundaries of the discipline in which they were trained,addressing the complex interconnectivity between bio-logical conservation and human well-being. Fundamen-tally, developing strong leadership from and for tropicalregions is crucial for addressing this monumental chal-lenge. Accordingly, universities have been called on torethink and reshape the education of scientists and pro-fessionals (COSEPUP 1995). What types of knowledgeand skills do graduates need to address effectively theconnectionsbetweentheconservationofnaturalsystemsand economic development? What types of graduate pro-gramsmightbestprepareprofessionalsforthisintegratedreality? These kinds of questions have been raised in re-cent articles in Conservation Biology that focus on con-servation science and policy (Meffe 1998) and on gradu-ate education and training in temperate and tropical con-servation (Bonine et al. 2003; Inouye & Brewer 2003). We devised a framework that addresses the theoreti-cal, methodological, and practical challenges to graduatetraining for tropical conservation and development. Theframework has been applied in an academic program,and we offer concrete examples of this application andcurrent student perspectives on program effectiveness. Reshaping Graduate Education for TropicalConservation and Development  Traditional graduate training, particularly at the Ph.D.level, has concentrated on producing disciplinary re-searchers,oftenmodeledafterthefacultymembersunder  whom they apprentice (Magner 2000). As the workplacehas become more interdisciplinary, global, and collabora-tive, however, graduates are required to be technically proficient, broadly trained, and capable of working inteams. Morethan ever, thereis alsoanemphasis on work-ingtowardamorehumanisticandsustainablesociety,one Conservation Biology  Volume 20, No. 1, February 2006   Kainer et al. Graduate Education for Tropical Conservation 5 in which the “academy” is obligated to generate knowl-edge and to apply it to concrete problems (Mendes dosSantos 2002). With these changes, there has been a call not to just“tweak graduate education around the edges” but to re-shape it completely (COSEPUP 1995; Duderstadt 1999;Golde & Gallagher 1999). In the United States, this de-sired change has received enough attention to precip-itate substantial financial support, such as that of theNational Science Foundation’s Integrated Graduate Edu-cation and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. TheIGERT program expresses an intention “to catalyze a cul- tural change in graduate education , for students, fac-ulty,andinstitutions,byestablishinginnovativenewmod-elsforgraduateeducationandtraininginafertileenviron-mentforcollaborativeresearchthattranscendstraditionaldisciplinary boundaries” (NSF 2005, emphasis added; seealso Zarin et al. 2003).Thisdemandforreformedgraduateeducationisdrivenin part by the organizations that employ graduates fromconservation and resource management programs. Re-cent surveys indicated they need team members with cross-disciplinary and disciplinary depth and skills in lan-guages,communication,leadership,negotiation,andpol-icy analysis (Jacobson 1990; Reid et al. 2002; Bonine etal. 2003). Fundraising, monitoring, and evaluation skills were also high on the list, perhaps a clear reflection of the importance of answering to donors. That human in-teraction and communication skills are at least as impor-tantasdisciplinaryknowledgeisnotsurprising(Jacobson1990; Cannon et al. 1996) because conservation and de- velopment practitioners work with a remarkably diversegroup of stakeholders, ranging from indigenous commu-nitymemberstocorporateCEOs.Theabilitytoeffectively elicit and present ideas, negotiate varying interests, runmeetings, and deliver successful workshops can make or breakaconservationordevelopmentprogram,regardlessof technical merit. This wide range of competencies mir-rorsthebreadthofthechallengeofachievingbiodiversity conservation success.Scientists are increasingly called on to communicatein different ways, such as explaining complex ideas topolicy makers and the general public (Lubchenco 1998;Meffe 1998). Although the traditional currency of peer-reviewed publications still holds the greatest weight within the scientific community, the need to communi-cate effectively with other societal sectors is now con-sidered a highly desirable skill, if not a fundamental pro-fessional responsibility. The formal teaching of ethics andresponsible conduct of research have also emerged asimportant features in a new culture of graduate educa-tion and research (Bradshaw & Bekoff 2001; NSF 2005)as has an increased emphasis on granting respect to pro-fessional colleagues and students (Grabau 1998, 1999).These themes are related to the increased desire to work  well collaboratively and respond more responsibly to thelarger society.The desire to reform graduate education is not limitedtotheUnitedStates.Abeledo(2003)callsforthedesignof programs in developing countries to promote problem-oriented research rather than selecting research themesor projects a priori with the hope that promising resultscan be “transferred.” A problem-oriented, hands-on ap-proach requires teamwork, communication, and interdis-ciplinary analyses—skills that resonate with job demandsplaced on conservation and development professionals.This active attempt to “solve problems” also rings true with the new social contract for science and scientists.The abilities required of those attempting to identify andsolveproblemscollaboratively,however,contrastsharply  with the skills set of a conventional disciplinary graduatestudent working alone to investigate a narrowly definedresearch topic.This broader view of graduate training begets multiplechallenges for education reformers. Within the univer-sity these include increased service demands on faculty,inflexible administrative structures that impede cross-departmental interactions, and trade-offs and uncertain-ties inherent to more collaborative, interdisciplinary re-search. In addition, relatively few academics or employ-ers are willing to give up disciplinary depth to accom-modate multidisciplinary breadth, and COSEPUP (1995)cautions reformers to not unduly increase the time re-quired to obtain a degree. Students and young scientistsareapprehensivethattimespentonproblemsolvingmay not be rewarded within the academic system and that ef-forts to articulate research relevance to the larger society couldbeperceivedasadvocacyandmetwithdisapprovalfrom within and outside academia (Jacobson & Jacobson1997).These valid concerns corroborate the suggestion thata sweeping cultural change in graduate education may be necessary for scientists to address twenty-first century problems effectively. How can a new skills set be incor-porated into an alreadyfull curriculum? In what ways caninterdisciplinary breadth be obtained without sacrificingdisciplinary depth? How might graduate programs bet-terpreparegraduatestobecomeforward-thinkingleadersprepared to improve human well-being while conserv-ing the diversity of biological wealth in the tropics? TheUniversity of Florida’s Tropical Conservation and Devel-opment (TCD) program has been wrestling with theseissues for more than 15 years, and the program’s frame- work for managing and adapting a graduate program is aproduct of these years of experience. Framework for Tropical Conservation and Development Learning and Action The TCD program, housed at the University of Florida’sCenter for Latin American Studies, was established in the1980s. The program does not grant degrees; rather, it Conservation Biology  Volume 20, No. 1, February 2006  6 Graduate Education for Tropical Conservation Kainer et al. offers an interdisciplinary certificate that functions much like a minor. It also provides a supportive learning en- vironment and fellowships and research grants for M.S.andPh.D.students(enrolledin20participatingacademicunits on campus) who are pursuing careers in tropicalconservation and development ( Approximately one-half of all participating stu-dentsarefromLatinAmericaandothertropicalcountries,and many of these are supported with TCD fellowships.Between 1988 and 2005, the TCD fellowship competi-tion has awarded 248 academic-year fellowships to 145entering and continuing students from 27 countries.The TCD mission is to advance biodiversity conserva-tion, sustainable resource management, and the welfareof rural people in the tropics through interdisciplinary graduate education, research, and collaborative learningand practice. The program draws on participation of cur-rent TCD faculty and students and on a broad network of partners, including alumni, mostly in Latin America butalso in tropical regions worldwide.Over the years, the TCD program has received substan-tial funding from private foundations such as the JohnD. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Williamand Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Students have received complemen-tary support from faculty grants, departmental teachingassistantships,FulbrightandOASfellowships,andfellow-ships from foreign government agencies such as CONA-CYT (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnolog´ıa) (Mex-ico) and CNPq (Conselho Nacional de DesenvolvimentoCientifico e Tecnol´ogico) (Brazil). In 2000 the programsecured a $4 million endowment from the Ford Founda-tion and the state of Florida, ensuring continuation of theprogram in perpetuity. This funding, coupled with TCD’s  Figure1. A graduate education framework based on the Tropical Conservation and Development  program’s experiences. relatively long academic history, has facilitated program-matic experimentation and growth and consolidation of program goals and philosophy.  TCD Approach The TCD approach has evolved over two decades of adapting a graduate program to the constantly changingfields of tropical conservation and development withinthe bounds of an academic institution. The framework that has emerged builds on traditional disciplinary foun-dations, integrates past and present student experiences,and embraces collaborative learning and action for trop-ical conservation and development (Fig. 1). At the heartof the framework is a learning and action platform, aspace for program participants to interact and innovate.The platform consists of multiple opportunities to de- velop and put into practice the competencies required of flexible, forward-thinking leaders. The best way we havefound to keep up with this dynamic is to embrace anadaptive learning approach, one that we are constantly seeking to articulate and improve. Writing, publishing,and receiving feedback on this paper is another step inthat learning process.Theprogramoperatesunderthepremisethatthefieldsof conservation and development are coupled, mandat-ing an approach that embraces a wide range of diverseand critical perspectives. With its combined focus onthese two fields, TCD provides support to biologists con-cerned with ecological systems and nonhuman speciesand to social scientists interested in policy developmentandhumanwell-being.Paradoxically,biologicalscientistsoften see TCD as a “social science” program, whereas so-cial scientists comment that TCD’s emphasis is more on Conservation Biology  Volume 20, No. 1, February 2006   Kainer et al. Graduate Education for Tropical Conservation 7 conservation than on development. The program derivesstrength from the creation of an environment in which studentsandfacultycaninteractoutsidetheirdisciplinary boundaries and cultures. Students typically carry out dis-ciplinary research for their degrees but situate their work  within a broader context of conservation and develop-ment issues, often incorporating cross-disciplinary com-ponents or applied activities with local partners.The core TCD learning and action platform is sup-ported by an interconnected triad of theory, skills, andpraxis (Fig. 1). For TCD these three dimensions translateinto three specific foci that interact and suffuse all TCDgraduate activities such that training (1) is problem cen-tered,innovatingacrossdisciplinestofocusonrealworldproblems; (2) strengthens personal leadership, buildingon student experience and enhancing communicationandcriticalself-reflectionskills;and(3)convergesinfieldapplication, linking graduate training and research to acollaborative network of others involved in the policiesand practice of tropical conservation and development. PROBLEM-CENTERED FOCUS The theoretical leg of the TCD learning and action plat-form draws on the disciplinary depth of diverse studentsand faculty, encouraging transdisciplinary exploration within a problem-oriented approach. The constituency for this intellectual exchange is three primary groups. (1)Sixcorefacultyprovidediverseexpertisein,forexample,development studies, gender, plant and animal interac-tions, ethnoecology, tropical forestry, academic programmanagement, adult learning, and conflict and collabora-tion management. Three core faculty hold joint, tenure-accruing appointments in TCD and their correspondingdisciplinary units. Significantly, two others are not under a conventional professorial track and thus have greater flexibility to provide student services and develop andadminister program directives. (2) More than 70 faculty affiliates and their associated 20 academic units acrosscampus are involved, as are (3) current masters and doc-toral students with a range of sociocultural backgroundsand experiences.The TCD students are matriculated in more than adozen social science and biophysical science units rang-ingfromanthropologytozoologyandininterdisciplinary units such as the Center for Latin American Studies andthe School of Natural Resources and the Environment.The distribution of the program’s 243 alumni, of which 58% earned masters’ degrees and the remainder doctor-ates,illustratesthebreadthofacademicunitsrepresented(Fig.2).Thecurrentcohortis88students,ofwhichmorethan half are doctoral students. The overarching goal isfor students to achieve fluency in their home disciplineandcompetencyinarangeofothercomplementarydisci-plines.Studentsareencouragedtolettheproblemathandguide the choice of applicable disciplines rather than let  Figure2. Degrees earned by academic unit of Tropical Conservation and Development program alumni (LAS, Latin American Studies; WEC, Wildlife Ecologyand Conservation; Anthro, Anthropology; FRC, Forest  Resources and Conservation; Poli Sci, Political Science;Geog, Geography; Zoo, Zoology; FRE, Food and  Resource Economics; NRE, Natural Resources and the Environment; and AEC, Agricultural Education and Communication). the discipline determine the limits of the problem itself (cf. Abel & Stepp 2003).The TCD program has never aspired to become adegree-granting program; rather, it complements andbuilds on the traditional disciplinary education receivedin affiliated academic units across campus. Because it ishoused in University of Florida’s Center for Latin Ameri-can Studies, without allegiance to any particular college,TCDenjoysalevelofautonomyandneutralitythathasfos-teredexperimentationanddevelopmentofuniquemech-anisms that support learning and action. An important result of the program is the intellec-tual heterodoxy and innovation that emerge from cross-disciplinarydialogue.Ratherthanseekinganoverarchingtheoryorunitarymodel,theprogramfostersdiscussionof key concepts or problems from many different perspec-tives. This approach to understanding system change em-phasizes its cross-scale, dynamic, discontinuous nature,based on the interplay between change and persistence,predictability, and unpredictability (Holling et al. 2002).Studentsandfacultydrawonanarrayoftheoreticalworksthat link natural and social systems such as resilience,adaptive management, and political ecology (e.g., Blaikie&Brookfield1987;Lee1993;Gunderson&Holling2002)andlearningtheoriesgroundedinadulteducationandso-cial learning (e.g., Knowles 1980; Freire 1993; Buck et al.2001). PERSONAL-LEADERSHIP FOCUS  A second dimension of the TCD learning and action plat-form is development of skilled and creative leaders (Fig.1)bybuildingonthediversityofleadershippotentialand Conservation Biology  Volume 20, No. 1, February 2006
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