CSU’s Bowser, Nerger honored as 2016 Women of Vision

Gillian Bowser, research scientist in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, and Janice Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, have been named “Women of Vision.” The honor comes from Colorado Women of Influence, a membership organization that aims to create a community of supportive colleagues at the executive level.

Gillian Bowser

Bowser has devoted her career to increasing opportunities for women and minorities in science. Her research is focused on women in sustainability and biodiversity; she encourages underrepresented students to explore these fields, as well as ecology and science. “There are very few women of color in science,” she said. “We need to do more to address that.”

Gillian Bowser with students in Bandelier National Monument
Colorado State University Research Scientist Gillian Bowser, right, leads students on a BioBlitz in Bandelier National Monument. Photo: William A. Cotton/ CSU Photography

She is one of two researchers from the United States working on the Global Gender and Environmental Outlook, a first-of-its-kind project led by the United Nations Environment Programme. The team is assessing environmental trends and changes and their impacts on women and girls.

“[Access to] water has huge impacts across the board, and it cascades down into awareness about girls’ education,” Bowser said as an example of the questions being studied.

Bowser helped launch the Global Women Scholars Network, which encourages collaborative research on environmental sustainability. The group aims to increase the number of women in science and also provides a gender perspective through its research.

For the last eight years, Bowser has attended the United Nations climate change talks to help advocate for gender equity in solutions.

“In Peru, cows are taken care of by males, and sheep are cared for by females,” she explained. “Cows are impacted differently than sheep at higher elevations, so there are a lot of gender issues across that spectrum.”

Her research has taken her and her students to Brazil, Peru and Jordan.

“It’s rewarding to help students become global citizens,” she said, describing a recent trip to Peru. “For some of them, it’s their first time ever outside the country.”

Before she arrived at CSU, Bowser spent 10 years with the U.S. National Park Service, studying desert tortoises, habitat modeling, military overflight issues and international relations with China’s National Park system. She also spent two years at the National Park Service’s headquarters and 10 years as a wildlife biologist at Yellowstone National Park studying insects, bison and rodents.

Janice Nerger

Nerger has long been a champion of, and an innovative advocate for, diversity in the sciences –  particularly for women. She is a co-founder of the influential Women in Natural Sciences organization, a group with more than 50 CSU faculty that supports women in the sciences and increases visibility by providing research grants, travel awards, lectures and mentoring to women students and faculty. She is continuously inspired to do all she can “to support women in what are very male-dominated fields,” she said.

Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences at CSU
Janice Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, has long been a champion of diversity in the sciences – particularly for women.

She was also instrumental in establishing the Colorado State University Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Center, which brings together students, faculty and staff across disciplines to create and facilitate STEM education opportunities both on campus and in the community. “My motivation always comes from others,” she said. “It comes from, ‘How can I help somebody else reach their potential?’”

Nerger has also broken new ground in her own research, in the topic area of vision. Her internationally known work on the neurophysiological mechanisms of color perception has garnered recognition from the National Science Foundation and National Research Council. She is a faculty member in the CSU Department of Psychology as well as a member of the interdisciplinary Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Neurosciences program.

After receiving her Ph.D., she earned a postdoctoral fellowship at NASA’s Ames Research Center and SRI International. She has long taken pride in advancing scientific research while also forging a path forward to create more opportunities for other women in science.

Nerger sees her ongoing work as a service not only to underrepresented members of the field, but also to the entire field. “You want diversity of thought, and a diversity of thought comes from a diversity of people,” she said. “The value isn’t just to the women, it’s to the science itself.”

The awards were presented July 20 at the Colorado Women of Vision gala.

Each year, about a dozen women are named a Woman of Vision by the organization, and several other CSU women have been among those honored. Jill Baron, senior research ecologist in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, received the award in 2015. Amy Prieto, associate professor in the College of Natural Sciences’ Department of Chemistry and founder of Prieto Battery, received a “Woman of Vision” award in 2013, as did, in 2012, Diana Wall, University Distinguished Professor, professor of biology, and director of CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability.