Student Spotlight: Conservation planning and citizen science

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Sean Geer is a second-career undergraduate student at Colorado State University, studying Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. Before becoming an intern with CitSci, Sean hadn’t ever heard of public science or citizen science. Sean’s work with our team was mutually beneficial. His past professional experience meant he was confident enough to dive into more challenging projects and, in his words, “Working with has reinforced my perceptions of what science is and how the general public continually contributes to scientific communities through developing projects and [making] observations in order to improve availability of necessary data to better inform decision-makers.”

About the Student Spotlight Series

One of the most rewarding elements of working in public science are the people we meet and learn from each day. We especially love it when we have the honor of teaming up with fantastic students learning and contributing their knowledge to help public science grow and improve. And we want you to get to know these students too. Who knows? You may wish to recruit them for your team after they graduate!

Cover Image: Sean Geer in front of a retreating glacier in Alaska.

From Chef and Carpenter to Conservation Planner

My name is Sean Geer, and I am currently in the process of completing my undergraduate degree in the field of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources (HDNR) at the Warner College of Natural Resources (WCNR) at Colorado State University (CSU). I fall into the category of what is considered a nontraditional student. My previous career development had been in the fields of working as a chef, carpenter, and in robotics development and construction. After a life-changing circumstance that prevented me from continuing with my previous career engagements it became necessary to develop and pursue new career opportunities. I’ve always had a deep passion for observation and interaction with the natural environment. After deep reflection and research into potential careers I decided that combining my passion for the natural environment and career paths would be most fulfilling. This led me to pursue an educational degree, working towards an outcome of conservation planning and program development.

When you’re open to possibilities, you might find citizen science

Life has a funny way of working out. Over the years I have learned that if you are open to possibilities, a majority of the time opportunities will present themselves. I was in the process of finishing up the course work required for my degree when I chose to take a course outside my program in Public Deliberation recommended by a professor. I felt it had great potential for helping me develop skills to incorporate into future career growth. 

During the first day of the program, I had the opportunity to engage with Sarah Newman the Director of Operations for CitSci and through discussion of our backgrounds and where I was currently at in my educational development, along with the need to incorporate an internship prior to graduation. After discussing her work and affiliations the possibilities and opportunities abounded. I was not familiar with citizen science programs and the field being implemented into projects at all levels of community and government on an international scale. 

During our discussion about citizen science and various projects the organization has implemented through their program, I found myself getting excited and starting to think of all the possibilities that can come from incorporating local knowledge, perspectives from all walks of life and diverse understanding into projects and scientific research to address a better understanding at all levels. It also became very clear that incorporating this information allows acknowledgement of those who may not be put into the category of a professional scientist.

Sean Geer instructing students during his teaching internship with the Skills for Undergraduate Participation in Ecological Research program.

Field work, research, and working with students

My work with has been a mix of projects and tasks. Some days consist of sitting in front of the computer doing research in order to better understand and write about citizen science as a whole and how it can benefit community project development as well as data/information streamlining for policy and decision-makers. Some days were spent out in the field making observations for the Leave No Trash project with Leave No Trace and writing up feedback on user interaction for new apps (like the CSU Spur Impacto exhibit). Other days were spent interacting and giving feedback to students working on research projects for the Skills for Undergraduate Participation in Ecological Research (SUPER) ESS 221 program. These aspects I found to be very engaging and enlightening while keeping my excitement and anticipation for the next day’s workload. There was always something new to be learned and engaged in as my internship progressed, developing and reinforcing skill sets from my degree program and coursework.

Developing a deeper understanding of science

To me citizen science was never a defined term before; to me, all science is based on an individual’s observations and potential/hypotheses to understand outcomes. Only recently have I learned that the scientific community can be considered by some to be exclusive or a closed community. 

I’ve always thought and felt that any individual who has a thought/observation and chooses to investigate how something works or better understand the process in which things develop, falls into the category of science whether that be considered “amateur” or professional. Citizen science to me is just putting a name to a process that occurs in every location around the globe on a regular basis. Only now am I realizing that these developments and expansion of understanding or actions and reactions to phenomenon or events is often considered to be the sole domain of scientists. Scientist or science is just the term applied to someone or process of taking the time to observe, question, and search for outcomes/results/ understanding.

Working with CitSci has reinforced my perceptions of what science is and how the general public continually contributes to scientific communities through developing projects and observations in order to improve availability of necessary data to better inform decision-makers. 

Developing and monitoring to meet project objectives is often an extremely expensive and time-consuming process that many organizations cannot afford to continually devote finances or adequate staff to for extended periods of time. Through the process of collaboration with increased community involvement, some of these constraints can be alleviated, which in turn promotes strengthened outcomes. Organizations such as CitSci have developed and shown to be very beneficial to the scientific community and policymakers helping through increased area/local specific knowledge into long-term project objectives and participation levels. These types of continued engagements promote inclusivity and strengthened global community ties.

Fostering relationships with potential employers

This opportunity allowed me to engage and develop relationships with numerous stakeholders from my field of studies and list of potential employers for future contact points. These engagements were often focused on application and research development regarding projects and issues that I expect to be examining and developing potential solutions for, as I transition into a new career path. Another key aspect was the continued development of my research ability and communication skills while engaging with multiple projects and stakeholder groups. The members of this organization and all the other stakeholders that I was able to engage with were continually supportive and willing to share their knowledge in order to help me grow in future career development. Interacting with professionals that are already working on projects directly related to some of my future career endeavors was exciting and encouraging and continually reminded me that I have the ability to make a difference.

A more inclusive approach to science through local knowledge

I am in the process of applying to graduate programs, and I will continue to develop my skills in the field of conservation planning and natural resource development. I will continue to approach objectives with the implementation of citizen science platforms as often as applicable to examine and address projects through incorporating local knowledge. I believe the scientific community can grow as a whole through this process and continually improve by promoting a more inclusive approach to research development. Many people that do not have a formal degree or education have valuable knowledge that can benefit all, if we take the time to acknowledge and bring into view their understanding, perspectives, and knowledge into examining and addressing many of the projects and concerns that have historically been placed on the scientific community to solve.

Join Sean and contribute to citizen science

Join the #LeaveNoTrash project developed by Leave No Trace.

Find a different project that interests you in our Project Finder.

Keep Exploring

Hear what other people have learned through their citizen science experiences with these articles:

Student Spotlight: Do what you can, where you are

How citizen science paved the way for this student’s career

Become a Volunteer Distributed Developer with CitSci

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