News from PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
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For immediate release: April 8, 2002
Contact: Steven Schultz (609) 258-5729, firstname.lastname@example.org
Labouisse prize winner hopes to 'cross-pollinate' with
Princeton NJ -- As an ecology and evolutionary biology
major, senior Elizabeth Bernier has had a long-standing
interest in insects and pollination. As the winner of this
year's Henry Richardson Labouisse '26 Prize, she will have a
chance to carry out some cross-pollination of her own.
Bernier will travel to the Peruvian Andes for a year to
study traditional organic farming and conservation in small
indigenous communities. Her hope is not only to conduct
research that helps the Andean farmers, but also to return
to the United States with data that will be useful to North
American farmers and conservationists.
"I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned in terms
of how we do agriculture here," she said. Bernier also plans
to help teach children in Peru about local ecology, wildlife
conservation and other environmental matters.
The Labouisse fellowship is an annual award that supports
research in developing countries by a graduating senior or a
first-year alumnus or alumna who intends to pursue a career
devoted to problems of development and modernization. The
fellowship provides $25,000 in funding for a yearlong
Bernier traces her interest in ecology and the environment
to her childhood in Los Angeles. "Ever since I was little, I
was always psyched about all those books like '50 Ways to
Save the Earth,'" she said.
But her resolve to become involved scientifically did not
sharpen until she took a freshman seminar, "Sustainable
Development and the Environment," from Richard Golden, now
retired associate dean of the engineering school.
"I kept coming to him with these stories I had read about
awful things happening in the world and he would just say,
'Show me the data,'" she recalled. "And that was it. I had
nothing more to say."
In many ways, Bernier has been looking for the data ever
She spent part of a summer, as well a spring break, studying
wildlife conservation in Belize under a research fellowship
she won from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. That
same summer Bernier studied the effects of carbon dioxide
emissions on plants and insects in waterside ecosystems
under a National Science Foundation fellowship at the
University of Michigan. As a junior, she spent a semester in
Panama working on research projects under faculty members
Martin Wikelski and Stephen Pacala.
Her most rigorous research experience came last summer when
she gathered data for her senior thesis, a project with
assistant professor Claire Kremen to examine the population
distribution of pollinating bees. The work was partially
funded by a two-year grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation
and a grant from the Princeton Environmental Institute. The
research required creating identical bee-attracting
conditions in different locations, so Bernier grew 240
sunflower plants in pots, rented a trailer and hauled them
every day to locations near Highway 16 about an hour outside
She then spent the day riding a bike back and forth between
different sunflower clumps counting bees for three minutes
at a time. "It turned out to be a lot more involved than I
thought," she said. "I had some long days."
Her Labouisse research in Peru may involve long days as
well, but she will be able to draw on experience traveling
to Mexico and Belize during her sophomore and junior summers
with Princeton Projects in the International Community.
While they were not research projects, those trips gave her
hands-on experience helping to build a school, working in a
national park and teaching children.
She also will seek advice from a Latin American organization
called the Center of Investigation, Education and
Development, which has agreed to provide her with guidance
and logistical support. "They have been very accommodating,"
"When I was applying (for the Labouisse fellowship), I
didn't let myself get excited," she said. After she won, the
immediate thrill soon began to be tempered by the thought of
making all the necessary arrangements. "I am still
definitely excited, but I realize that there will be a lot
of challenges," she said.
In Peru, Bernier, who speaks Spanish, expects to select a
village in which her supporting organization already has a
presence and spend a few months working in and learning
about the community. Based on what she learns about what the
farmers need, she then plans to develop research projects to
provide them information about such issues as soil
fertility, erosion, pests and pollination. At the same time,
she plans to teach children about conservation issues and
Ultimately, Bernier plans to return to school to pursue a
Ph.D. in conservation biology, then work in international
conservation and eventually teach. In the meantime, however,
she said she is eager simply to work in the field and "do
something really on the ground."