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Two NKU Professors Honored as Top Food and Water Security Researchers

Dr. Kristine Hopfensperger
Dr. Kristine Hopfensperger
Dr. Kirsten Schwarz
Dr. Kirsten Schwarz

February 20, 2018- Two Northern Kentucky University professors have been highlighted among the top food and water security researchers by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr. Kristine Hopfensperger and Dr. Kirsten Schwarz were named as 2018-19 AAAS Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows.

AAAS selected 15 scientists and researchers within the food and water security research community who demonstrated a clear commitment to engage the public on these issues. Dr. Hopfensperger is an associate professor of Biological Sciences and the director of Environmental Science Program at NKU. Dr. Schwarz is an associate professor of Biological Sciences and the director of NKU’s Ecological Stewardship Institute.

“It’s an honor to be named an AAAS Leshner Fellow and join this community of like-minded scientists who are committed to creating a meaningful dialogue on food and water security issues,” said Dr. Hopfensperger. “I hope to leverage this fellowship to create greater engagement within our region on these critical issues.”

“As part of this fellowship, I want my project to serve as a model for use-inspired, community-engaged research at NKU, by re-positioning community members from participants to collaborators. This shift can not only shape what research happens, but how research happens, making our science more relevant to policy outcomes and more meaningful to communities… Community engagement is not only outreach – it has the power to transform and improve our science,” said Dr. Kirsten Schwarz.

As part of the Fellows Program, Dr. Hopfensperger and Dr. Schwarz will join other scientist in June 2018 at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. for a week of training that includes public engagement, science communication and plan implementation. Fellows also receive ongoing professional development throughout the year.

Dr. Kristy Hopfensperger’s research is centered on relationships between community dynamics and ecosystem processes in response to human disturbances. Dr. Hopfensperger works with undergraduate students and community partners to conduct research on topics including water quality, green infrastructure, greenhouse gas flux and invasive species. She recently had a research paper published in Ecological Restoration that focused on the impact of removing invasive amur honeysuckle and seeding native plants. Dr. Hopfensperger received her Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Maryland.

Dr. Kirsten Schwarz is an urban ecologist who uses a transdisciplinary systems approach to understand how landscape patterns affect ecosystem services in cities. Community engagement, social justice and equity are central themes of her research. Currently, Dr. Schwarz is leading a research team developing green infrastructure designs for vacant lots in partnership with community members, non-profits, city officials and planners in Newport, KY. Dr. Schwarz earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University.

The AAAS Leshner Fellows program, now in its third year, builds on the long-standing commitment of AAAS to science communication and public engagement. The Leshner Leadership Institute was established in 2015 through philanthropic support. The institute is managed by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, established in 2004 by Alan I. Leshner.

About the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): The AAAS seeks to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." The world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its Science family of journals, AAAS has individual members in more than 91 countries around the globe.

About NKU:  Northern Kentucky University is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018! Founded in 1968, we are a growing metropolitan university of more than 14,000 students served by more than 2,000 faculty and staff on a thriving suburban campus near Cincinnati. Located in the quiet suburb of Highland Heights, Kentucky—just seven miles southeast of Cincinnati—we have become a leader in Greater Cincinnati and Kentucky by providing a private school education for a fraction of the cost. While we are one of the fastest growing universities in Kentucky, our professors still know our students' names. For more information on our 50th, visit