Campus News

PSO Faculty Fellows study coastal debris, fungi and leadership evaluation

Jenna Jambeck

Jenna Jambeck is working to reduce the amount of debris, specifically plastic, found in the coastal environment.

Marin Brewer is exploring the relationship between fungi and plant disease.

Rebecca Nesbit is studying how UGA leadership programs help local nonprofit organizations.

As 2016-17 Faculty Fellows, ­Jambeck, Brewer and Nesbit each has had an opportunity to partner with a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit to further their academic and research interests.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this work, like the DNA sequencing and creating the interactive map and trail markers, without my fellowship,” said Brewer, an assistant professor of mycology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, who partnered with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “The grant has also provided opportunities for me to conduct several presentations, which helps build a bridge between UGA mycology and the garden.”

The fellows program, created in 2011 by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, gives tenured and tenure-track professors the means to develop enhanced academic courses, conduct community-based research and apply that research to outreach initiatives. Public Service and Outreach provides $15,000 to each fellow’s home department.

An anticipated outcome of the fellowship is the faculty members’ sustained involvement with Public Service and Outreach.

Jambeck, an associate professor of environmental engineering in the ­College of Engineering, spent her fellowship with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Working with Katy Smith, water quality program coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Jambeck recruited students to collect data on marine debris along the Georgia coast.

Using the Marine Debris Tracker, an app that Jambeck developed in 2010, the students submit information about the type, amount and location of litter and debris in a coastal environment.

So far students from Glynn Middle School in Brunswick have removed 890 items of debris from approximately 3.5 acres of the marsh near the school. In addition they have become more educated about marine debris and the problems it can create for the environment.

“If people are noticing litter items and tracking it with Marine Debris Tracker, then maybe they will think twice the next time they are offered a single use plastic item or will remember to bring their bags or use a water bottle,” Jambeck said. “It is these small changes, when taken collectively, that really do make a difference.”

Nesbit, an associate professor of public administration and policy in the School of Public and International Affairs, partnered with the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development for her fellowship. Her goal was to assess nonprofit organizations that have worked with Fanning faculty to see if that work has had an impact on the organization.

She surveyed nonprofit employees in Northeast Georgia who had used the Fanning Institute for board development and strategic planning. The survey will help Fanning faculty adapt their nonprofit training to better assist the organizations and have a better understanding of the outcomes.

Nesbit hopes to continue the project to help Fanning faculty become more responsive to the nonprofit organizations and to further strengthen her evaluation skills and provide publishable data that can add to the field of knowledge in nonprofit studies.

“Really our hope is to strengthen these organizations so they can do good in the community,” Nesbit said. “Ultimately, that’s what I hope to get out of it, something I can do to help the community and these nonprofits.”

Brewer became interested in mycology (the study of fungi) and its relationship with plants while working in Maine for the Agricultural Research Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, before going to graduate school.

Most of her work involved studying soil ecology and plant diseases caused by fungi. During her fellowship at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Brewer, her graduate researchers and undergraduate students collected fungi samples along one trail of the garden.

Using a national database, they identified and labeled their findings, which were confirmed by DNA sequencing. They now can create an interactive map and markers to be placed along the trail and track the species’ growth or decline from year to year.

The fellowship was Brewer’s first opportunity to study fungal diversity in a natural forest ecosystem.

“People don’t think about fungi because they are often located where we can’t see them,” Brewer said. “But they have a huge impact, whether that’s positive or negative, on our plant and animal habitats and we need to study them more to really understand those contributions.”