Post-graduate integrates climate change science and policy to create communication tools

Meet Karen Dante

Not many graduates can say they discovered their dream job while still in school, but Karen Dante, who recently received her master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Johns Hopkins University, is not like other students.

Post-graduate integrates climate change science and policy to create communication tools

Karen Dante has learned much about climate change as a postgraduate fellow in the U.S. Forest Service Research Participation Program, most importantly, its impact on forests in the United States. Dante hopes to use these experiences in the future to impact India’s (her nation) stance on the renewables industry and initiate climate smart solutions.

While at a non-government organization community meeting in fall 2011, she saw the climate advisor to the Forest Service Chief Dave Cleaves, give a presentation. “I vividly remember telling myself that I would work for him one day.” she said.

Her experience with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) began with an appointment as a Climate Change Communications Fellow in the Environmental Protection Agency, an experience that furthered Dante’s desire to do more about climate change.

Fortunately for Dante – and the Forest Service, for that matter – she now acts as a post-graduate fellow at the Climate Change Advisor’s Office (CCAO) in the U.S. Forest Service Research Participation Program administered by ORISE, which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy. The program provides selected participants the opportunity to address agricultural and technology issues in fields of interest to the U.S. Forest Service. Under the guidance of her mentor Cathy Dowd, Greg Kujawa, and Climate Advisor Dave Cleaves she actively assists the U.S. Forest Service with a variety of climate change-related projects.

“The purpose of my research is to integrate and translate science into policy, develop a range of communications materials related to climate change policies, science and tools, and advance the sustainable management of forests in the face of a changing climate,” she explained.

A large portion of her efforts with the U.S. Forest Service deals with communications tools: Dante is creating summary reports on the amount of carbon stored in each national forest between 1990 and 2012 to aid field managers in better understanding the sequestration and storage capabilities of forest ecosystems. She also is compiling the results of the 2012 Climate Change Performance Scorecard, a 10-point scorecard that reports accomplishments and plans for improvement for each national forest and grassland with the goal of creating a balanced approach to climate change. She is using these results to develop briefing papers on the progress made by each national forest and grassland in implementing the Forest Service Climate Change Strategy. Additionally, Dante is developing a variety of communications tools to assist the U.S. Forest Service in becoming the lead agency in promoting the use of wood as a green building material.

As a native to India, Dante struggled with her decision to study environmental science due to the cultural stigma about careers outside medicine or engineering fields. Undaunted by family pressure, however, Dante was unwilling to jettison her dream of a career in climate – the social acceptance of her decision notwithstanding.

“The percentage of Indians pursuing a career in conservation is quite small,” she explained. “As an Indian woman, with the goals of working in the field of conservation, I hope to inspire other young women from my underrepresented community to pursue careers that don't fit the status quo, but are still vital to the well-being of their home country, as well as the world.”

“This experience has increased my knowledge of forests and climate change not by ten, but hundredfold,” Dante said. “I have learned so much from this fellowship, especially the intersection of science and policy. This experience really has been a ‘dream come true.” What lies ahead for her? Dante hopes to return to India and help her country focus more on the renewables industry and implement climate smart solutions.