A West Virginia University student is the recipient of one of only three national Graduate Student Policy Awards.

Michael Levy, a second year master’s student in biology, is the winner of the Ecological Society of America’s Graduate Student Policy Award.

“Michael winning this award shows that students in the Department of Biology can compete with the best across the country,” said Jonathan Cumming, associate provost for Graduate Academic Affairs in the Office of Graduate Education & Life.

Levy noticed a call for applications in a newsletter from the society and immediately applied for the award.

“It seemed like a long-shot, since they give the award to only three people nationally, but since it was such a good fit, I thought I’d give it a shot,” Levy said.

For the application process, Levy wrote a cover letter about how policy and regulation can influence environmental outcomes and how that related to his master’s research. Then he wrote a statement about the importance of funding ecological science.

“This award bridges policy and ecology,” Cumming said. “Michael is very committed not only to understanding the ecology of environmental stresses, such as mining, but on addressing the challenges to ecosystem recovery by applying sound policy that incorporates our best knowledge about ecosystem structure and function.”

Levy said he highlighted the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent veto of a mountaintop removal mine in southern West Virginia, noting that their decision is overflowing with science, from how habitat fragmentation that results from mountaintop removal affects threatened bird species to the human health impacts downstream of the valleys that are filled in with rubble from the mining process.

At the end of March, Levy will go to Washington D.C. for training in meeting with policy makers, and meetings on Capitol Hill.

The event will focus on the need for federal investment in biology-related fields of research. The three winners will meet with congressional staff and scientists from around the nation.

“I think that science often exists nearly in a vacuum, and this is unfortunate because we need science to inform our decision making process as a society,” Levy said.

“If scientists fail to communicate scientific understanding to policy makers, decisions will be made, at best, on fragmented or incomplete understanding of issues, and, far too often, I’m afraid, on political calculations,” he added.

Levy said this is doubly true for environmental issues, where there are powerful forces pushing policy makers for less regulation and the effects of policy decisions can be quite complex and sometimes take years or decades to fully manifest themselves.

“Policy and regulation need to be based on the most complete understanding we have, which of course comes from the cutting edge of science. But as science grows increasingly complex, it becomes harder and harder to distill scientific understanding such that it can be communicated to non-specialists,” he said.

“As my career takes shape, I am hoping to position myself as a sort of conduit between the understanding that science produces and the writing of policy that affects all of us, from people to forests and bears to bugs,” Levy said. “This award will provide me with an opportunity to learn about the process by which science informs policy and will put me in contact with the people that are at the center of this process, and I am very excited about that.”


jh 3/7/11

CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304-293-7405, ext. 5251, Rebecca.Herod@mail.wvu.edu