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Frank Day
Frank Day

A Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) minority undergraduate mentoring program that Old Dominion University ecologist Frank Day has directed for the past four years has won a second round of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Day was the principal investigator for a grant titled "Undergraduate Mentoring in Wetland Science With a Focus on Underrepresented Groups" that served 21 students from 2003-07. The latest grant, which he also leads, is worth almost $60,000 and will continue the mentoring program through 2011.

The program provides travel and other expenses enabling undergraduates to attend the SWS annual meeting and be exposed to graduate degree programs and career possibilities in wetland science. Eligible students are African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or persons with disabilities.

In 2002, during Day's term as president of the SWS, he delivered an address calling for action to increase racial and cultural diversity within the organization. "We are composed of a dynamic mix of academics and government and private-sector scientists and practitioners," he told the membership. "However, a quick look around at SWS meetings and other professional ecology activities reveals very low racial and cultural diversity in our memberships. I do not believe this is a result of willful omission, but I do think more can be done to be more inclusive with regard to underrepresented groups."

The call to action led to the launch of a SWS Human Diversity Committee and the successful bid for the initial NSF grant.

Day works directly with students served by the program and arranges for SWS professionals to be mentors. He said the immediate goal of the program is to encourage more people from underrepresented groups to enter graduate degree programs in fields that would prepare them for a wetland ecology profession. The students served so far, he added, "have been exceptionally mature and focused, and were exciting to interact with." At least five have gone on to graduate programs in ecological disciplines.

At SWS meetings, the undergraduates are invited to orientation, networking and poster sessions, as well as a field trip and special luncheons. Day said student response has been positive. Evaluation comments often praise the students' opportunities to talk with professionals. "Hearing about your circuitous paths to careers in wetland science was really encouraging," one student wrote.

SWS has close to 4,000 members, including about 7 percent from outside the United States. Day is an eminent scholar and professor of biological sciences.