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Environmental Researcher Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta Receives 2019 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science

Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta is being recognized for involving communities most affected by pollution, poor water quality and food insecurity in the scientific process. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta, assistant professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, is the winner of the 2019 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science, presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ramírez-Andreotta, who studies soil and food quality and environmental contamination, is being recognized for involving communities most affected by pollution, poor water quality and food insecurity in the scientific process.

“Her scientific approach is state-of-the-art, and it involves engaging directly with affected communities to identify critical environmental health related problems, and then working collaboratively with these communities through the problem solving and research process,” Jon Chorover, professor and head of the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, wrote in the award nomination letter. “Community-engaged scientific research is a growing field of endeavor, and Dr. Ramírez-Andreotta is on track to be one of its future leaders.”

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Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta | Jon Mainhagu/University of Arizona

Ramírez-Andreotta has headed several collaborative research projects that create science learning opportunities and engage community members in data collection, interpretation and translation of results into action.

In 2008, she launched Gardenroots, a citizen science project geared toward community members living near a hazardous mining waste site in Arizona. Ramírez-Andreotta and nearly 100 trained participants collected soil, water and plant samples. Their work revealed that the public utility’s drinking water contained arsenic levels above the drinking water standard, a finding that resulted in the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality issuing a violation to the water supplier. Gardenroots worked with local water authorities and the owners of affected households to provide information about water treatment technologies designed to reduce arsenic concentrations in drinking water. The Gardenroots program has since grown into a nationwide initiative.

Ramírez-Andreotta now leads Project Harvest, a citizen science project that engages community health workers and more than 150 families living near sources of pollution in monitoring harvested rainwater, soil and plants. To make the project accessible to community members, all materials are available in both English and Spanish.

In addition to these large-scale projects, Ramírez-Andreotta conducts free screenings of soil for urban gardeners and organizes science events for children and families.

Mark Brusseau, professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, commended Ramírez-Andreotta’s “commitment to increasing public participation and environmental science and public health research, her dedication to early academic outreach to underrepresented students, and her passion for engaging underserved communities whose lives are affected by environmental health issues.”

“She is truly a champion for public-engaged research,” Brusseau wrote. “Dr. Ramírez-Andreotta embodies public engagement as intentional, meaningful interactions built on mutual trust and learning.”

The AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science was established in 2010 “to recognize early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science activities.” The award consists of a $5,000 honorarium, a commemorative plaque and complimentary registration and travel to the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Ramírez-Andreotta will receive the award during the 185th AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16, 2019.