dr. kirsten schwarz and dr. kristine hopfensperger

Kirsten Schwarz
Kristine Hopfensperger

Dr. Kristine Hopfensperger and Dr. Kirsten Schwarz are working to create meaningful dialogue on food and water security issues. They were both among 15 people named as 2018-19 AAAS Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The pair will head to Washington, D.C., this summer for training that includes public engagement, science communication and plan implementation.

Hopfensperger, an ecosystem ecologist and the director of the environmental science program at NKU, focuses on linking animal and plant communities to ecosystem processes. She’s also focused on water quality—specifically wetlands, streams and rivers—and making our world cleaner.

For Hopfensperger, the fellowship is about improving partnerships with community partners.

“I’ve been involved in community outreach and engagement since I was a graduate student,” she says. “It’s always been really important for me—wanting to really feel like I’m a part of the community and not just doing my research on the side.”

Schwarz is an urban ecologist, an associate professor of environmental science and the director of NKU’s Ecological Stewardship Institute. Her research focuses on the spatial distribution of goods and hazards in urban areas. She also focuses on trees within cities—the benefits they provide people and their relationship to environmental justice. Her current project, the Strategic Depaving Project, identifies vacant lots in Newport, Kentucky, and involves the community in designing and implementing public green space. The Ecological Stewardship Institute received a $40,000 grant to fund the project.

“I think the fellowship is a really good opportunity to learn more about how to engage with the community effectively,” Schwarz says. “I think it’s also an opportunity for us to demonstrate to other faculty at NKU that working with the community improves science. It doesn’t have to be seen as a service or outreach to the community, but as a reciprocal relationship.”