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Launching Our Second Decade of Community Science at AGU

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Photo of Natasha Udu-gama courtesy of Gehan Abeywickrema, 2023

When I joined Thriving Earth Exchange in 2014, it was only the second year of the program’s existence. To be honest, at the time I wasn’t entirely familiar with the notion of ‘community science’. I had spent the previous decade neck deep in the world of community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR), vulnerability and capacity assessments (VCAs) and international development primarily in South and Southeast Asia. However, AGU and Thriving Earth Exchange intrigued me. My work was rewarding and I wanted to go beyond mitigating disasters to find ways for communities to ask and answer their environmental questions in a sustainable manner. Could community science provide a model for ways in which the geosciences and science could better and more tangibly serve humanity?

To address this question, I got to start from the very beginning. I first learned how to manage collaborative projects that start from community priorities. This experience gave me deep knowledge about how to navigate the differences and diversity inherent in bringing together various people – community leads and community scientists – from very different walks of life. I realized that the benefits of community science extended beyond addressing just a science-related priority. Ultimately, these projects helped participants better understand one another and realize that they were part of one community – humanity. Building upon those early lessons, I had the opportunity to further expand our program’s services to enable more diverse community leads to join and find success within our program. And we’ve grown far beyond our humble beginnings. Most recently, I supported the spread of community science to 8 different countries in Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

After almost nine years with Thriving Earth Exchange, I can definitively say that community science provides a model that allows science and scientists to give back to humanity in ways that are inclusive, impactful, and empowering.

On November 2022, I humbly accepted the role as the program’s second director. It is with much gratitude and immense excitement that I start this next step. I’m grateful to all of those who have supported and guided me along the way both within AGU and beyond. I’m proud of all that we’ve achieved enabling the program to become well-established both nationally and globally as a leader in community science. And I can’t wait for you to see what comes next.

In 2023, our team will be expanding so that we can better develop community science projects so as to include more communities, scientists and fellows while providing them with the necessary support to see projects to successful completion and replication. Further, we will be embedding AGU’s global lens into all of our operations to ensure that we remain true to and expand upon our DEIJ goals. Finally, we will be looking to strengthen our existing partnerships and develop new ones as we implement a generous new grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to develop regional community science hubs around the country. I am thrilled to take up the mantle of community science! Together we will work to further enhance community power, increase public trust in science, and inspire collaborative scientific research agendas. Eventually, I hope we can fire up a new generation of community science enthusiasts who will champion bi-directional sharing of knowledge, tools and solutions between communities and scientists to continue to co-create sustainable community science projects with deep and lasting impacts.

I hope you will join us.

– Natasha Udu-gama

Liz Crocker editor


Seth KahanFeb 21, 2023 at 11:50 AM

The Thriving Earth Exchange is extremely fortunate to have you at the helm, Natasha! Your dedication and experience will serve our world well. My congratulations to you, and a hearty welcome to this new level of leadership on behalf of this great work. I am so pleased to hear of this new development, and to hear that Raj will not be far away! My very best wishes for your success and the success of the TEX under your oversight – call on me if I can ever be of assistance.

Gloria G Horning PhDFeb 21, 2023 at 12:33 PM


Lauren Childs-GleasonFeb 21, 2023 at 12:48 PM

Congratulations, Natasha! Exciting news for TEX and great that Raj isn’t going too far!

John BolducFeb 21, 2023 at 1:02 PM

Congratulations Natasha. Good move by AGU.

Ángel GarciaFeb 22, 2023 at 3:21 PM

Congratulations! Looking forward to keep collaborating with TEX and AGU.

Natasha Udu-gamaFeb 27, 2023 at 12:51 PM

Thank you all for your kind sentiments! I will be sure to be in touch. I look forward to further collaborations in the near future.

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