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Communication is Key: Fostering Growth for the Next Generation

A science expert in climate science, eco-system management and social-ecological issues, Dennis Ojima has a long list of awards, positions, and programs to solidify his striking ecological-duel-scientist title. Yet, in juxtaposition of the numbers and models, he also has a seemingly unique focus in leadership—providing a strong connection between today’s science, and tomorrow’s leadership.

“Seeing how much science we have at hand, to know that things are changing, and given that info causes us to ask ‘why is society or this nation not taking action,’" Ojima said. “This is when we started more closely trying to move the activities of this nation toward solutions related to adaptation and mitigation related to climate change."

Serving as a vital piece in the Warner College of Natural Resources as a professor and Senior Research Scientist of the Natural Resource Ecology Lab (NREL), Ojima is based at his doctorate Alma Mater, Colorado State University. Yet, he does not let his work end where his mailing address does. Ojima has long-ranging influence within the leading climate-change community from Central Asia, Mongolia, and China, back to the central Great Plains region.

Ojima is focused on how ecosystems are being affected by global climate change. He researches social-ecological systems, terrestrial ecosystem, atmospheric changes connecting to climate change. As many discrepancies creep into natural earth systems due to on-setting climate change, the need for sector-wide responsible natural resource management practices is vital.

Ojima uses this knowledge to affect immediate change within society, rather than only letting scientific articles and on-paper numbers define his scientific legacy.

“It wasn’t just satisfactory to me personally to just publish my papers, and teaching my classes. You have to take the extra step of reaching out to the public," he said. "Being a university professor, I'm part of the service community. It made sense to give back to different communities whom can incorporate the information we have gained about the environmental so they can incorporate this into how they manage their own natural resources."

Assisting natural resource managers adapt to the uncertainty of climate change is a vital aspect of the climate change mitigation tactics being battled by Ojima and colleagues. Climate change affects everything from grass and shrubs growth, animal habitat, to economic health and human activity.  

While looking back on the early days of Ojima’s career, his passion for relating to the public emerged through nurturing professionals.

Ojima was inspired in his early academic days by seasoned role models who showed him compassion and patience. He spent three life-changing years in Stockholm as a new Doctorate, working in a startup organization called the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP), which is now an established Earth-systems research institute. 

“Meeting these luminaries in global change research, I found it amazing how patient and compassionate they were, they understood that as the new generation. They really understood the need to invest and to share their passion and world view so the next generation can provide greater research and pathways to solutions," he said. "Now that I’m in a position where I have knowledge to provide some knowledge and provide some guidance I feel the same way."

Ojima shares the same attributes with graduate students at Colorado State University as he felt as a blooming ecologist, and hopes to progress the future of science past his generations knowledge and research.

“What is exciting about interacting with students is that they’re really eager to learn about these complex topics and its very heartening to see what their compassions are, where their passions are and how they want to pursue different pathways in dealing with the environment,” Ojima said. “Providing them the skill sets to deal with global change, climate change, managing natural resources is really fun; to see them brighten up about how they can be part of the solutions.”

As Ojima works to provide support and leadership to the upcoming generation, he also is working as a leader within the North Central Science Center.  His work is influencing the public through a young science iniative, yet this time, as an expert. 

The North Central Climate Science Center (NC CSC) is a regional university consortium initiative funded through the department of the Interior. Ojima, along with colleague USGS Jeff Moristette lead the Colorado State University-based project. There are eight additional climate science centers throughout the US. 

The research and climate modeling coming out of the North Climate Science Center will serve as a base for resource management for the Great Plains, great-basin area. The NC CSC's objective is to give resources to aide in the mitigation of negative ecological impacts due to climate change in natural resource management. 

As climate change heads to the forefront of the public platform, communication and public outreach is key for progression and widespread awareness. As society is influenced within media-overload, sound science information becomes increasingly important. 

“The future is in the students' hands," Ojima said. "We need to provide the tool kits, information and knowledge that we have to let them further develop their knowledge and skills into solutions.”