In 2021, the Great Lakes Center is going to celebrate its 55th anniversary. It is a perfect excuse to think about who we are, where we are now and where we are going to be in the next 5–10 years.
The Great Lakes Center (GLC) mission is to improve the quality of the environment by providing comprehensive and up-to-date science to enhance and sustain the ecological function of the Great Lakes’ ecosystems into the future. The GLC supports research at SUNY Buffalo State and has secured millions of dollars in external research funding over its 54 years of history. The GLC employs 18 full-time faculty and staff and brings together more than 25 affiliated faculty from eight academic departments at Buffalo State to conduct research in aquatic ecology, fisheries, environmental toxicology and chemistry, urban ecology, watershed dynamics, environmental education, and art. The GLC’s list of collaborators exceeds 100 scientists nationwide and internationally. The GLC provides excellent opportunities for Buffalo State undergraduate and graduate students to participate in various research and educational projects related to the Great Lakes environment. On campus, the Center serves as both a catalyst and a facilitator to link high-quality research with graduate and undergraduate education, largely contributing to the College’s role and visibility in the community.
Personnel. Over the last 10 years, the number of full-time employees at the GLC has increased by 50%. Currently, there are seven full-time State employees (including two members with split appointments with the Biology Department, and three Field Station personnel) and 11 scientists and technicians supported by research funds through the SUNY Research Foundation (RF), as well as 17 student assistants and 32 seasonal employees. While in the past at least four employees were fully or partially supported by RF funds, currently all eleven staff on research positions are fully supported through external grants obtained by GLC researchers.
Facilities. The GLC comprises facilities on and off campus to support high-quality research in a variety of disciplines, promote rigorous graduate and undergraduate education, and facilitate research dissemination to the public. They include aquatic ecology equipped laboratories in the new Science and Mathematics Complex on the Buffalo State main campus, laboratories at its Field Station on the Niagara River, a fleet of research vessels capable of operating in nearshore and offshore waters of the Great Lakes and their tributaries, and a variety of sampling and analytical equipment to support the research and educational mission of the GLC.
Research. The GLC is recognized as a regional, national, and international center for research excellence in aquatic and watershed studies. Since 2009, GLC externally-secured grant funding has exceeded $14.2 million, with a five-fold increase in the last ten years, and currently exceeds $7.5 million (including multiyear grants). The GLC has become a leader in several large collaborative projects, including the leading role in US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) Benthic Monitoring Program, which covers all five of the Great Lakes and is the world’s largest monitoring program in freshwater. Additionally, the GLC has led, over a number of years, projects that involve whole-lake limnological and biological studies in lakes Erie and Ontario under the GLNPO auspices. The GLC has also been the leader in collaborations with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other universities for a comprehensive study of the food web of the Niagara River ecosystem, which is a globally significant Important Bird Area that supports the Mississippi migratory flyway. The GLC hosts the Western NY Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management office (WNY PRISM), coordinating a regional response to aquatic and terrestrial invasive species. The GLC also operates a Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) buoy in Lake Erie where long-term data is collected as part of NOAA’s effort to track changes in the Great Lakes as the planet warms. The research at the GLC also involves funded graduate student research projects that span a variety of local ecosystems and organisms and contribute to the knowledge necessary to support our aquatic environment.
Education. GLC personnel make significant contributions to the training and education of graduate and undergraduate students. We strive to attract good quality graduate students to our program and provide assistantship and grant support for many of them. Twenty-two students have graduated from the MS and MA Great Lakes Environmental Science (GLES) programs since they began in Fall 2013. Ninety-six percent of these graduates are working in the environmental science field or are enrolled in a Ph.D. program. On average, 15 undergraduate and graduate student assistants are employed by the GLC every year as technicians, to assist in the benthic monitoring program, sampling in the Niagara River food web project, and the Western NY Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), where they receive training in methods of biological monitoring, taxonomy, aquatic field sampling, and invasive species management. The two GLC members with split appointments with the Biology Department teach aquatic courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These courses allow students that wish to specialize in aquatic biology (lakes and streams) or in Great Lakes ecology, access to a complete set of courses from which to become proficient in a variety of areas. In addition, undergraduate and graduate students participate in ongoing GLC research projects.
Outreach. Disseminating the research findings of the GLC and its collaborators is a fundamental step for the advancement of science and its application in ecosystem management. GLC staff disseminate knowledge through press releases, the GLC website, the GLC annual activity report (13 issues available online), a biannual newsletter (16 issues available online), publications in national and international journals (on average 10 peer-reviewed research papers per year), and hosting and contributing to conferences and workshops (on average 36 presentations per year). Additionally, and primarily through our WNY PRISM office, we have a social media presence on Facebook and Instagram and in the last five years have averaged over 40 outreach events, workshops, or presentations at local farmer’s markets, festivals, fairs, and outdoors days. The GLC involvement with the community also involves being a member of the Steering Committee for the recent federal and international denomination of the Niagara River Corridor as a Ramsar Site for the protection of its wetlands and wildlife.
Research. The GLC will continue to be a regional, national, and international center for research excellence in aquatic and watershed studies. It is our goal to increase and diversify the GLC role in providing research-based perspectives for the protection and sustainability of the Great Lakes’ natural resources, including guidance to stakeholders when making resource-related decisions and governance. To address our research goals, maintain, and expand our research capacity we are going to increase external funding to $10 million by 2025 and to $15 million by 2030 as well as increase the number of publications and presentations (20% by 2025 and 50% by 2030).
Education. It is the GLC goal to increase the GLES program enrollment by 50% by 2025 and double that amount by 2030. A larger body of students will result in more participation in our externally-funded research programs and a higher visibility of the GLES program and its comprehensive course work. We aim to educate our students to learn to think as scientists, obtain a broad scope of knowledge in ecology and environmental science, learn to apply that knowledge to practical situations and become environmentally-minded citizens of the Great Lakes.
Outreach. We will continue on our existing path of outreach and explore new methods for community inclusiveness through GLC activities, such as continuing collaborating with the Art Department, Burchfield Penney Art Center, participating in the production of educational movies, and participating in interactive exhibitions. The GLC will develop a social media presence of its own via Facebook and Instagram.
Please check back for updates!
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