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2019 Thriving Earth Exchange Year in Review

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2019 Thriving Earth Exchange Year in Review


(From left) Christine McEntee, Raj Pandya, Carol Finn, Natasha Udu-gama, Sarah Wilkins, and Melissa Goodwin at the ceremony recognizing Thriving Earth Exchange with a 2019 Power of A Summit Award from the American Society of Association Executives.

2019 marked important milestones for Thriving Earth Exchange and AGU more broadly. As AGU celebrated its Centennial by commemorating the past and looking to the future, Thriving Earth Exchange faced a deadline for meeting four benchmarks identified shortly after our program’s launch: to establish 100 projects, engage over 100 AGU members, catalyze 100 shareable solutions and improve the lives of 10 million people.

By year’s end, Thriving Earth Exchange had met—and exceeded—these goals. Since our program started, we’ve launched impactful projects in 100 communities where more than 17 million people live. We’ve helped over 200 community leaders learn to work with scientists and use science, and we’ve helped over 300 scientists learn to work with communities. Along the way we’ve developed a method and process that turns theory into action, enabling a community of practice for community science at AGU.


In 2019, we—and more importantly, the hundreds of communities and scientists that make our work possible—were honored to receive national recognition for those achievements. Thriving Earth Exchange was selected to receive a 2019 Power of A Summit Award, the highest honor of the American Society of Association Executives. The award recognizes associations that go above and beyond their everyday mission to undertake initiatives that benefit the United States and the world.


Though an award like that is perhaps more tangible, it is only a symbol of the rewards community science can reap. The true reward is in the movement  resonating across communities that use science to address their concerns and advance their priorities to build a future that is safer, healthier, and more just. We count ourselves lucky to be able to help make that happen.

Our Projects: 2019 Snapshot

Our proudest and most important accomplishments are reflected in the outcomes of each community-centered project that we support—helping scientists and community leaders work together to make concrete, positive, lasting changes in the places they live, work, play and pray.

Thriving Earth Exchange projects have reached communities across the United States, as well as countries in the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Asia.

This year saw a marked expansion not only in the number of projects undertaken but in the diversity of their focus and scope. Some clear themes emerged:

  • The partnership with Higher Ground that supported many projects in flood-affected communities in 2018 expanded to address needs that include managed retreat and other related issues. Clearly, Higher Ground has tapped into a growing concern in many communities. We’ve seen some of these communities, such as those in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Ocean City, New Jersey, use flooding to raise awareness of larger issues like environmental justice and climate change.
  • Lots of communities are looking for help tackling climate change. While there is a wealth of excellent research, data and knowledge available in national and international climate assessments, local leaders still want to work with scientists to understand what it means locally: How hot will it get in my urban center, who will be affected, and what could we do?
  • People care about their environment and their health. Lots of projects have to do with understanding pollution in water, air and soil and what that means for the people living nearby. There is a real interest in understanding cumulative impacts: How does exposure over time and from multiple geographic locations affect people and places?
  • Flexibility and connections are key. Not all projects go as planned, not everything fits into 18 months, and not everything has to start from zero. We’ve focused more and more on adaptive project design and connecting communities, scientists and fellows to share advice, lessons and even failures.


In addition, we experimented with longer project durations for a few projects, while continuing to build on our recently established cohort model through which communities benefit from synergies with related projects in adjacent communities. Project topics ranged from responding to climate change to mitigating environmental contaminants to guiding responsible development.

In addition to these formal projects, we explored opportunities in Musoshi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hartford, Connecticut, and other locations. We are looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together with new friends and collaborators in 2020 and beyond!



Programs & Partners

For Thriving Earth Exchange, 2019 was a year to take stock of where we stand and double down on our strengths. As we reached the finish line for the goals set at our program’s launch, we took a careful look at how we’re doing, how we can improve and the partners we need to do more together.


Program Evaluation

An external team of program evaluators was hired to independently assess where Thriving Earth Exchange has succeeded, and where we could do better. In the interest of transparency and lessons learned, we’ll share the results—good, bad, or ugly—when they’re available in early 2020.


Community Science Fellows

The Community Science Fellowship is one of our most ambitious efforts to bring community science to a broader array of people and places. In 2019 we established the fellowship program and launched two cohorts of fellows, a group of six in September and a group of eight in December. Fellows hone skills in managing diverse teams, working across disciplinary boundaries and connecting science to action while helping to advance community solutions.


A delegation of Mongolian professionals visited Thriving Earth Exchange as part of an international professional exchange program.

International Engagement

Community science knows no borders. In 2019, Thriving Earth Exchange evolved toward enabling more institutions and universities worldwide to adapt and replicate Thriving Earth Exchange’s community science approach. Through local institutions, this strategy will enable more communities to access science and collaborate with scientists to advance community priorities with the support and guidance of Thriving Earth Exchange. In addition to launching projects in countries around the world, Thriving Earth Exchange worked with the jointly hosted AGU-Stockholm University Bolin Centre Geoscience and Society Summit to enable adaptation of our project launch workshop for the purposes of understanding local priorities from a geoscience perspective. Our staff and partners also got a unique chance to exchange expertise and experiences with a delegation of Mongolian Fellows. The Fellows visited the U.S. as part of a professional exchange program and Thriving Earth Exchange Senior Specialist Natasha Udu-gama met with the Fellows in Mongolia.


California Strategic Growth Council Collaboration

This year we forged a new collaboration with the California Strategic Growth Council, a cabinet-level body chaired by the Director of the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Eight California communities will work with scientists to design and implement concrete projects that leverage Earth and space science to make their communities healthier, more resilient and more sustainable in the face of accelerating climate impacts.


Partnership with Public Lab

While Thriving Earth Exchange and Public Lab have long crossed paths, our two organizations embarked on an official new partnership this year with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. We’re excited to work with Public Lab to draw more scientists into community science, connect and share resources among our organizations, and harmonize our efforts to support projects in local communities.


Charting a Path

What are the career opportunities in community science? How do I get started? Finding ourselves fielding these questions again and again, we endeavored to develop a collection of resources on careers in community science. These career profiles and tips are intended to help anyone—from students to mid-career professionals to retirees—consider charting their own path in community science.


A Focus on Equity

This year brought a renewed focus on not only why we do community science but how to do right by communities—all communities, including those that are or have been marginalized. The launch of AGU’s Ethics & Equity Center spurred us to consider how community science can help make science more moral and move the needle from diversity and inclusion to true equity.


Participants at the second Thriving Earth Exchange Community Science Fellows training in December, 2019.


2019 was an incredibly active year for the Thriving Earth Exchange team as we expanded our knowledge, tools and experiences into many new communities and networks through in-person and virtual outreach and engagement.



Educational workshops brought community science concepts and skills to life for scientists, students and communities:



This year’s most popular blogs and web resources included:



Virginia Beach delegates commended community leaders for their action to address chronic flooding with a formal House Resolution. Photo courtesy of Virginia Wasserberg.

In the News

Major news outlets reported on Thriving Earth Exchange, its projects and the amazing work of our community partners this year:


  • An article in The Guardian highlighted efforts by Thriving Earth Exchange partner Higher Ground to help residents deal with persistent flooding.
  • A National Geographic article referenced Thriving Earth Exchange and highlighted how community partnerships are advancing climate adaptation.
  • segment on WWLTV highlighted efforts to plant trees to alleviate extreme heat in New Orleans’ 7th Ward.
  • An Ensia article featured communities working with scientists through Thriving Earth Exchange and Higher Ground.
  • A Physics World article featured a project in Montego Bay, Jamaica, as an example of how community science can help resolve global issues at a local scale.


Thriving Earth Exchange Senior Specialist Natasha Udu-gama (second from left) with fellow panelists at the National League of Cities Summit in San Antonio, Texas.

On the Road

Thriving Earth Exchange staff participated in conferences and events around the world:



Thriving Earth Exchange staff members (from left) Raj Pandya, Natasha Udu-gama, Sarah Wilkins, Melissa Goodwin and Zack Valdez.

Our Team

Mahmud Farooque, Jessica Ball and Ramesh P. Singh rotated off of the Thriving Earth Exchange Advisory Board this year. We bid them farewell with fondness and much gratitude for the time and energy each of them devoted to our program over the years.


In 2019 we said goodbye to staff members Sarah Wilkins, who served as a Project Manager since 2017; Peter Weiss, who served as Features and Special Products Editor for AGU; and Zack Valdez, who held a contract position as Project Manager this year. We are grateful for all of the contributions they made to our program and the Thriving Earth Exchange family. We will welcome our newest staff member, Kelly McCarthy, in early 2020.


What’s Next?

Over the past six years, Thriving Earth Exchange has developed a method and helped build a community of practice in community science. In the coming year, we will continue to iterate and build on that work through new Thriving Earth Exchange projects, through new partnerships and collaborations, and through the expanding community science movement.


In 2020, you can find us:

  • Empowering current and future leaders in the community science movement with new cohorts in our Community Science Fellows
  • Working with AGU’s Office of Public Affairs and Sharing Science program to help Thriving Earth Exchange projects enhance their broader community engagement and policy relevance, thanks support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
  • Joining forces with new partners, including the California Strategic Growth Council, American Meteorological Society (AMS) and Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC).
  • Welcoming one new staff member.
  • Collaborating with international organizations to grow the community science movement around the globe.
  • Continuing to improve and adapt our methods and tools to better serve and achieve meaningful impacts in more communities.


Most of all, 2020, like every year up to now, will see us striving to live up to our core beliefs: that all communities have the right to participate in, benefit from and guide science; and that by working together, scientists and community leaders can build a world in which all people, and the planet, thrive.


Kelly McCarthy subscriber

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