The Leonard & Jayne Abess Center CHANGING THE WORLD MANY students AT A TIME

The Abess Center strives to be a hub for all things environmental at UM. Each year, we host dozens of public events related to environmental issues and policy, gathering students, faculty, and community members and broadening understanding of current environmental issues and policies. We bring researchers from schools and departments across the University together with visiting scientists, policy makers, and planners to facilitate inquiry and dialogue about pressing environmental problems like sea level rise, lake basin water management, energy conservation, carbon taxes, land use planning, climate change, marine conservation, environmental justice, and urban agriculture.

Ungar 230 C/D draws crowds for seminars, panel discussions, dissertation defenses, and community organizing on a daily basis.
Since opening in 2011, our space in Ungar has hosted almost 300 public events.
We bring in top researchers and activists to keep us in touch with the latest interdisciplinary trends, and our annual Reitmeister-Abess Center Environmental Stewardship Award enables us to recognize community leadership in water quality and conservation.
Carl Hiaasen, winner of the Reitmeister Award, with Leonard Abess and Donna Shalala.
Engaging locally to foster resiliency
The Abess Center supports local organizations in part by promoting and sponsoring events. We provide numerous environmentally-related not-for-profits with meeting space on campus. Wherever there is an important regional conference or forum, you'll find Abess faculty or students there.

The Abess Center is on the front lines of community action and policymaking, playing an active role in the Southeast Florida Climate Compact.

Abess-affiliated natural resource economist Dave Letson (far left) with Jessica Bolson (first Abess-minted Ph.D.) and current doctoral students Galen Treuer and Jillian Drabik at the Southeast Florida Climate Compact annual meeting.


Tackling wicked problems in the lab and field

ECS undergraduates are problem solvers and highly motivated investigators. Each semester, dozens of students participate in actions on campus and countywide to clean up beaches, promote recycling and energy conservation, tend to injured wildlife, restore shorelines, plant trees, and bring awareness about climate change. As they are accustomed to saying, "Be the change you want to see."

ECSers, as our undergraduates are fondly called, like to get their hands dirty. They maintain the Green Wall in the Abess Center and volunteer in the on-campus Gifford Arboretum.
ECSers led the way launching organic gardening on campus.
Junior Annie Cappetta, left, founded the CommUnity Garden club on campus, which is advised by ECS assistant director, Terri Hood, who also leads students on summer and semester break field outings in places like Portugal (she's seated at far right), Iceland, and the American West.

Currently boasting 72 majors and 30 minors from across nearly all schools and colleges at UM, the major requires students to carry out an internship or research. In recent years our students have worked in a range of environmental organizations and government agencies including:

  • Philadelphia EPA
  • Chincoteague Fields Research Station
  • Cape Eleuthera Institure
  • Broward County Parks & Recreation Land Management Division
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach
  • Downers Grove Park Community Garden
  • Heal the Bay MPA Watch
  • Office of Jack Kingston, Georgia House of Representatives
  • Arthur Marshall Foundation
  • J.P. Morgan Green Bonds
  • White House Council on Environmental Quality

We have recently forged a partnership with the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces Department, and expect the first crop of students to begin interning there soon in what is planned as a multi-year relationship.

What our undergraduate alumni were doing when we last checked up with them:

Our alumni have fanned out across the country and the globe, bringing their added understanding to the aid of decision making in multiple sectors.
ECS alumni Edumin Corrales, Leigh Wellington, and Andrew Stoquert taking a break from their law studies to attend a carbon march in New York City.
In 2013, with the Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, we launched a cutting edge Master of Professional Science track in Exploration Science.

EXploration science m.p.s.

Helmed by Keene Haywood, the program has grown rapidly. Currently, there are 8 students enrolled in the ES track. They take courses in citizen and participatory science, the ethics of exploration, risk assessment for expeditions, research diving, and exploration technology and media, even building and operating their own drones. Students have interned in Antarctica, Australia, and South Florida. ES graduates have found positions both in the public and private sectors.

ES program graduate Ian Tomcho, left, is Expedition Equipment Specialist at Lindblad Expeditions; Kyle Neumuller is Hydrographic Survey Technician at Land and Sea Surveying Concepts; Thales Araujo works in the oceanograpic branch of the Brazilian government.


Keene Haywood and Kenny Broad (above left) did K-12 outreach during the Bahamas Blue Holes 2016: Exploration in a Parallel World, an expedition to Dan's Cave in Abaco. Above right, Nancy Albury of the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, talks to local students about the prehistory of their island.
Keene Haywood, on the expedition's programming for local school children: "These children get a chance to experience some of the wonder of Dan’s Cave directly by coming to this area with their teachers to interact with the expedition team and go through a series of hands-on experiences including crawling through simulated cave squeezes, science experiments showing how groundwater picks up pollutants, making bush medicine teas with local elders, and coring trees to determine their age. While the data and images will go far beyond Abaco, it is the direct impact of experiential learning first hand by the younger generations of Bahamians that is most gratifying aspect of the project for many of us. It is in seeing the kids’ discovery and wonder in action that exploration science ceases to be an abstract idea and becomes a concrete experience not just for the school kids visiting Dan’s Cave, but for all of us."

Environmental Science and Policy Graduate Program

"If I had to characterize the Abess Center's graduate program, it's about giving freedom." Kenny Broad

Students who have earned the Ph.D. at Abess Center have chosen paths that lead them directly into the heart of real-world contributions.

Our Ph.D.s are working in the arenas of food sustainability...

...carbon capture and storage...

...and marine conservation and environmental education.

We have one of the country's few joint J.D./Ph.D programs.

In 2013, with the School of Law we launched one of the country's only joint JD/PhD programs. This elite program currently has two students, Annie Brett and Johnny Bartz.

A crop of outstanding alumni let us know what their time at the Abess Center meant to them.

Testimonials from some Abess Center Ph.D.s

Dr. Karlisa Callwood, 2016

"I was honored to be selected as part of the first PhD cohort with the Abess Center. Because of the program, I didn’t need to narrow my research interests down to one discipline. The interdisciplinary nature of the program allowed me to design my own coursework, focusing only on classes I needed for my research. I am also thankful to the Abess Center for helping me find funding each year, particularly the last couple years as I was finishing up. I am now the first person in my family with a doctorate and for most of the underserved students I have worked with over the past decade, I am the first black female they know who has earned a PhD in science. It has also meant a lot to me to see that there were women of color in each cohort every year."

Dr. Austin Gallagher, 2015

"The Abess Center provided me a strong basis for asking questions about how humans interact with the environment, and introduced me to readings, lessons, and approaches I would not have been keyed in on in other doctoral programs. The program also nurtured my skill set and interests in science communication that extend beyond solely publishing, which is crucial for engaging with the public and stakeholders. Today I am now full-time running my ocean conservation NGO, Beneath the Waves, and am working with a number of Foundations, partners, and corporations to advance marine conservation research on threatened species."

Dr. Katie Crosley Beem, 2014

"The Abess Center has taught me what it means to be an explorer, of both life and knowledge. It taught me to tackle challenges at times I didn't think were surmountable and how to be a critical thinker, scholar, and an interdisciplinary collaborator. I am now a lecturer and academic/residential coordinator at Cornell in Washington (a DC semester program for Cornell University) where I mentor students on their own research projects and am slooooowly building up a research program for my own work in urban social-ecological issues."

Temitope addresses a vector borne disease conference in Colombia.

Dr. Temitope Alimi, 2016

"Abess Center was my ticket to the United States and opened a whole new world to me! I chose Abess Center for my graduate study mainly because of the interdisciplinary nature of the department. I was cognizant of the fact that providing answers to the kind of questions my research would raise would require knowledge of more than one discipline. Abess more than surpassed my expectations in this regard, because I was able to get working knowledge of many other disciplines that I couldn’t have gotten otherwise. But beyond the academic excellence is the rapport, dependability and that feeling of family that I came to associate with the center while I was there. Every student knew the staff got their backs, people (Gina, Andee, Kenny, Keene) were always on hand to help whenever needed. Beyond further developing my mind and thinking capabilities, I was able to forge friendships both with staff and students that I can’t trade for the world. May I use this opportunity to thank you, Leonard and Jayne Abess, for your endowment to this center and for giving people like me, a little girl from Lagos, with a big dream, the chance to come and actualize my dream. Thank you."

Dr. Jill Ulrich, 2016

"I owe my initiation in policy research to the Abess Center, which provided all of the guidance, encouragement, and resources needed to apply a multidisciplinary approach to researching mosquito-borne disease control. It is a truly unique program, and I don't think I could have had the freedom to pursue my research interests in such a holistic way anywhere else. I believe wholeheartedly in what the Abess Center is doing. It will always be home to me. I think I will always feel the desire to give back to and be a part of the Abess Center in any way I can."

Caitlin and friend, hiking to the Loch air quality measurement stations in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Dr. Caitlin Augustin, 2017

"It’s hard to overstate what a huge impact the Abess Center has had on my life. My dissertation let me focus on one of the Grand Challenges of Engineering: Developing Carbon Sequestration Methods. The fact that I got to focus on a matter of such importance was a huge deal - I wanted my time in grad school to be “beyond the lab.” I walked into uncharted territory - both for myself and the field. I’ve been able to sit on panels, attend Congressional hearings, engage in international debates, and tour research labs due to the topic I studied. The Abess Center gave me the freedom to engage not just with researchers, but with policy members and practitioners. It taught me how to be taken seriously - to present critical analysis, to articulate the broader context of my problem, to seek out unconventional research pathways. The Abess Center, and its commitment to interdisciplinarity, gave me the skills that are so essential in the workplace today--such as survey design and methodology, decision sciences, program evaluation and impact measurement--things I would have missed if I had done just the 'hard' sciences, instead of the 'harder' sciences, as Kenny is fond of saying!"

Julia Wester, briefing field students aboard research vessel Garvin.

Dr. Julia Wester, 2015

"Completing my PhD at the Abess Center changed my life. It exposed me to ideas and people I never would have encountered otherwise and gave me the opportunity to work collaboratively with people from such diverse backgrounds. The experiences I had there led me to work with a great group of innovative people on issues that I care about, continuing to work to save the environment, increase research opportunities for students, and expand outreach on the ocean. The Abess Center was critical to setting me on the path I am on now in ways that another, less innovative and interdisciplinary program never would have."


It can change it for the better, Again and Again.

Everyone touched by the Abess Center has been enriched by your generous gift, Leonard and Jayne.

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