Baruch College Natural Science Assistant Professor Member of Team Awarded $2.5 Million NSF Grant

Dr. Stephen Gosnell’s research focuses on restoring oysters to New York City waters and introducing local high school students to data literacy

Stephen Gosnell, PhD is an assistant professor of environmental science in the Department of Natural Sciences at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.

Stephen Gosnell, PhD is an assistant professor of environmental science in the Department of Natural Sciences at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.

Stephen Gosnell, PhD, an assistant professor of environment science at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, is part of a five-person team that received a $2.5 million grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of their STEM + Computing Partnerships Program.

This NSF grant supports Dr. Gosnell’s project called “Integrating Computational Science with Environmental Sciences Associated with Habitat Restoration and Education in New York Harbor.” Gosnell’s research focuses on understanding how diversity is maintained in ecological communities and its impact in ecosystem functioning and services. ​At Baruch, Gosnell has concentrated his work on oyster and salt marsh restoration; two once-common local communities that he says have been “decimated over past centuries.”

Real-World Training for Students

Gosnell’s research is coordinated through work with the Billion Oyster Project, a program where students become field scientists and engage in a movement to restore 1 billion oysters to New York City waters. According to Gosnell, this NSF grant will significantly benefit students with numerous hands-on skills.

“With this funding, this important project extends student involvement by moving them from collecting data on oysters to organizing, visualizing, and analyzing it,” Gosnell said. “Introducing students to analysis using data they collect and can contextualize is a great introduction to data literacy and future career options.”

Besides Gosnell, the other members of this multi-institute research group includes Lauren Birney from Pace University, Nancy Woods from the New York City Department of Education, Susan Alter from York University, and Chistelle Scharff from Pace University.

Importance of Billion Oyster Project

Oyster restoration is a major focus in New York because they provide numerous ecosystem services. Gosnell noted that the presence of oysters reduces storm surges, provides habitat for other organisms, cleans the water as they feed, and contributes to nitrogen removal.

Gosnell conducts projects to determine the best methods to raise oysters so they survive in local water.

Furthermore, he works with big data sets to determine what they can tell us about where we should plant the oysters that will help make “informed choices about future restoration sites.”

For Gosnell, getting students involved in the Billion Oyster Project is critical so they see what scientists do outside the classroom and why their work is important. Currently, Gosnell works with the NY Harbor School’s Aquaculture Program where he talks with the junior and senior classes about the research process and why it matters to oyster farmers. He also helps seniors carry out a year-long study to see how species interactions such as predation can impact oyster growth in unexpected ways.

The Next Generation of Scientists

By receiving the NSF grant, Gosnell and the rest of his team will be able to work with more students through the development of curriculum units that will teach them to understand and use data to best restore oyster reefs in local waters.

“These experiences are critical for building a scientifically-literate public and making sure all students realize they can be a part of the next generation of scientists,” Gosnell said. “Additionally, the general public needs to better understand the importance of making wise decisions about how we use our natural resources and how science can help inform those decisions.”

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