The Citizen Science Association is a rapidly growing organization with many new names and faces. Some of those faces are volunteering their time to lead this organization as Board Members. This post is part of an ongoing series we call “Meet the Board”, where you can learn more about the great people guiding the organization.
In this blog, you’ll meet Simphiwe Laura Stewart. Laura has a Master of Studies in Environmental Law from Lewis and Clark Law School and a Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She is currently working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is an ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) Research participant.
CSA: Laura, you have an interesting background, working in environmental justice with a number of organizations, including the Environmental Law Center Swaziland and the US EPA. Tell us a little about these experiences and how you came to be involved in citizen science.
Laura: The Environmental Law Center in Swaziland was established by 2010 Goldman Prize winner, Thuli Makama. I have served as co-founding director since 2013. The organization is rooted in promoting principles of justice and inclusion in natural resources management and environmental regulation in the Kingdom of Swaziland. I have been an ORISE Research Participant at the EPA since 2013. My research is focused on using EPA science tools such as C-FERST and EJSCREEN to support EPA programs and the communities they serve in identifying, understanding and assessing sources of environmental exposure. As the agency reviews the efficacy of these tools, engaging the public through community based research and citizen science have been a priority.
CSA: I’ve heard that you are fluent in three languages. Do you find that citizen science means different things in each language? How might you explain the term in the different languages you speak?
Laura: Citizen Science and other terms of art are definitely expressed or understood differently across communities. For example, in my native language, Siswati, it would be best explained as ‘normal people doing work that scientists do’.
CSA: Can you tell us a little more about your work with environmental justice assessment in vulnerable communities?
Laura: My first experience with this work was at age 11, working on a U.N funded project to test ambient air quality in a community surrounding one of Swaziland’s largest industrial emitters. By working with a local nonprofit, media and the community our ‘Bucket Brigade’ conducted an assessment that forced the emitter to increase the height of its smoke stacks. This ‘equation’ has informed my work ever since. I try to ensure that there is always equitable representation, consultation and meaningful engagement of regulatory and non-regulatory actors in any assessment. While science tools and GIS have made data access easier, they have also increased the need for social scientists in the field. More recently, I am conducting research on national environmental justice and science policy related topics at the EPA.
CSA: What role do you think environmental justice plays in citizen science?
Laura: To the extent that environmental justice calls for meaningful engagement across race, income and other identities, I believe it forms the core of citizen science. Environmental justice says ‘yes, there are environmental issues but different communities experience them in various ways and their experiences are important’ to which citizen science should respond ‘lead the way in developing solutions’.
CSA: What have you learned from your experiences with the Citizen Science Association Board so far?
The board is a diverse, passionate and committed group of volunteers from across sectors. I think that we sincerely represent the membership we aim to serve. I have learned that we need as much diversity in this field as is available if we are going to make crowdsourcing and citizen science an inherent part of all our work.
CSA: What do you hope to learn from the Citizen Science 2017 Conference?
Laura: I hope to learn from Conference participants about what the issues and interests are in their communities and the creative ways that they are moving forward on them using citizen science. I also want to know how institutions can support this work in a way that builds capacity, sustainability and results where they are needed most.
CSA: Is there anything else you’d like our members to know about you?
Laura: I would like our members to know that I am always open and objective to their feedback and suggestions on the work. If I can be a resource to any of our members, I am willing and available. In the meantime, I hope we will all work together to advance the vision and mission of CSA as it grows from strength to strength.
Want to learn more about Laura? Follow her on Twitter @Sim_Pea_Way
Check out some of Laura’s work:
- Four Cattle and A Farm: On finding more inclusive solutions to climate change
- Tradition and Dance: the role of indigenous knowledge on ecosystem management
- Our Story: Climate Justice, Environmental Justice