2023 Elizabeth Jester Fellows Award Recipient

Sarah A. Spaulding
U.S. Geological Survey and the Institute of Arctic & Alpine Research at University of Colorado – Boulder

Sarah Spaulding’s contributions to the aquatic sciences represent a career-long dedication and vision to improve science through coordination of research, unparalleled teaching and mentorship, and accessibility and engagement of all. Sarah modernized the field of diatom systematics and the use of diatoms as biological indicators in water quality monitoring programs by leading the design and development of Diatoms of North America (diatoms.org). The website makes information about diatom taxonomy, ecology, and distribution accessible to all. It is a trusted resource used by students, federal monitoring programs, environmental consultants, and academic researchers; it serves as a standard reference for diatom taxonomic certification exams. Sarah continues to lead innovative improvements to the website to meet user needs. The website surpassed 1,070 peer-reviewed taxon pages and has started filling an important gap – marine diatom taxa. In addition, diatoms.org facilitates international collaboration among more than 100 contributors and provides a platform for education and science communication, such as the Diatom Web Academy. Since 2020, the Diatom Web Academy has recorded nearly 60 webinars with over 15,000 views and has greatly contributed to utility and accuracy of quantifying diatoms in the environment.

Sarah also exemplifies what it means to teach and mentor for the future of science. Since 1963, the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory has offered one of the only courses on the ecology and systematics of diatoms in the world. Sarah taught the class for 15 years (2000-2014) and brought course goals and student outcomes into the 21st century. She guided modernization of the teaching space, formalized scholarships, secured research grade microscopes for every student, and shifted the focus of the class to research skill development and applications. By the end of her tenure, students were contributing their research-quality publications to diatoms.org and tackling their own research with Sarah’s guidance. Beyond the classroom, Sarah is an exceptional mentor and helped early career professionals find their place in academia, private consulting companies, and public service. Sarah also serves the international science community, which now includes her upcoming role of President of the International Society of Diatom Research. A unique ability to move beyond the institutional inertial path is seen again and again in Sarah. Her work is founded in critical questioning, a drive for access and inclusivity, and an uncanny ease for developing collaborations. Even when the challenges seem daunting, Sarah perseveres.

Elizabeth Jester Fellows was the Director of the EPA’s Assessment and Watershed Protection Division until her death in November 2000. She dedicated her career to natural resources management, environmental protection, and public service. Elizabeth was the EPA co-chair of the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring (ITFM) and envisioned the creation of its successor, the National Water Quality Monitoring Council. She was a strong and effective advocate for developing a nationwide framework for coordinating, collecting, assessing, and communicating water quality monitoring information and results. Elizabeth was the personification of the goals and ideals of the monitoring Council, and her legacy has been an inspiration to those who have followed her and continue the Council’s work. In her memory, the Council has established the Elizabeth Jester Fellows Award to recognize individuals for outstanding achievement, exemplary service, and distinguished leadership in water quality monitoring and environmental protection.