GRAD Alumna Leading Women in Science Policy

Melody Brown Burkins, GR '98, became the first woman to chair a U.S. delegation to the International Geological Congress (IGC).

In late August, Dartmouth graduate alumna Melody Brown Burkins, GR '98, became the first woman to ever chair a U.S. delegation to the 35th International Geological Congress (IGC) hosted by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) in Cape Town, South Africa. Not only was her leadership a first for the U.S. delegation to the IGC, but Burkins also worked with the U.S. National Academies (NAS) to assemble a first majority-female U.S. delegation to the IGC, appointing women geoscience leaders to six of the eight formal delegate positions. Prior to this 2016 meeting, U.S. IGC delegations had had, at most, two female delegates.

Dr. Ester Sztein, the Assistant Director of the Board on International Scientific Organizations at the U.S. National Academies and an official U.S. IGC Observer, noted that she has supported many U.S. delegations over the past nine and half years and that it was a "real privilege supporting such a powerful one” in Cape Town.

In addition to Burkins serving as Chair of delegation, the U.S. geoscience representatives in Cape Town included U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Director Suzette Kimball, Geological Society of America (GSA) President Claudia Mora, GSA Executive Director Vicki McConnell, GSA President-Elect Isabel Montañez, University of Nebraska at Lincoln Professor Emerita Priscilla Grew, International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) Chair and California State University, Long Beach Professor Stan Finney, and American Geological Institute (AGI) Executive Director P. Patrick Leahy. 

This significant representation of U.S. women geoscientists at an event that bills itself as the “Olympics” of international earth science meetings was visible during Council business meetings, especially as Burkins and her delegation proposed a significant change to IGC-IUGS bylaws[1] about the nominations process that, she argued, would help advance more inclusivity and diversity in future IUGS-IGC executive leadership. The U.S. motion, initially resisted by Council leadership, was ultimately accepted by a formal vote of 39-1 after lengthy discussion. This followed the successful U.S. support of similarly contentious language changes proposed by another female geoscience leader, Professor Ezzoura Errami of Morocco, President of the African Association of Women Geoscientists.

Studies have shown that proposals and work presented by women in traditionally male-dominated environments - which include government offices and many scientific organizations - can often be overlooked, misattributed, or ignored.  However, there is a growing recognition that women working together to echo or amplify proposals made by female colleagues, then attributing the idea to the original proposer, is a successful “echo chamber” strategy that can be employed by women across all fields, including staffers in the Obama administration

At Dartmouth, Burkins is the Associate Director for Programs and Research in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies, where she teaches ENVS 80.08: “The Practice of Science Policy and Diplomacy” and advises students in their scholarship and career paths. As Chair of the U.S. National Committee to the International Union of Geological Sciences (USNC-IUGS) and a member of the National Academies’ Board on International Scientific Organizations (BISO), she uses her leadership roles to advocate for more women and young people in international science, policy, and diplomacy leadership, for investments in the emerging field of international “science diplomacy,” and for ways in which the U.S. science community can help support the global Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

Last year, Burkins served as faculty advisor to four Dartmouth students chosen to participate in the Model Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, last March, and joined the 2016 Dartmouth delegation to the first Global Citizenship Program and Workshop of the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) in Uppsala, Sweden, in May. While in Cape Town, Burkins took the opportunity to speak to 20 U.S. geoscience students and young faculty who had received travel awards from the Geological Society of America. She encouraged all of them to continue engaging internationally and connecting their science, whenever possible, to helping find solutions to our shared global challenges, from climate change to poverty alleviation.

Burkins enjoys bringing the richness of international experiences back to the Dartmouth community and to her work with both faculty and students. In her role as Faculty Advisor to the Dartmouth Science, Technology, Engineering, and Policy Society (STEPS) group, she will be hosting a lunchtime discussion on October 11th on the topic of Science Diplomacy, to which all are invited. For more information, please visit the STEPS Facebook event.

Image left to right

Suzette Kimball, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Claudia Mora, President of the Geological Society of America (GSA)
Ester Sztein (observer), Assistant Director, Board on International Scientific Organizations at the National Academies
Vicki McConnell, Executive Director of GSA
Melody Brown Burkins (U.S. Delegation Chair), Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies, Associate Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College, Chair of the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Geological Sciences (USNC-GS)
Isabel Montañez, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, UC Davis, and President-Elect of GSA
P. Patrick Leahy, Executive Director of the American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Stan Finney (not pictured) Professor of Geological Sciences, CSU Long Beach, Past Chair of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), Secretary General of the International Union of Geological Sciences