Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Announcing the Austin Student Travel Grant Challenge

A new million-dollar matching grant challenge will invest in future generations of scientists as a way to start the next transformational era of Earth and space science.


“I can still vividly remember my first AGU Fall Meeting and how great it felt to be a part of such an exciting and welcoming community.” I’ve heard variations of this sentiment over and over from scientists who as students attended their very first Fall Meeting and became “hooked” on science and on AGU.

AGU’s Fall Meeting is the largest international gathering of Earth and space scientists in the world. Researchers who span generations and scientific disciplines connect to amplify their research and advance the scientific enterprise, and students are essential participants. Not only can they be inspired by the latest work of leading researchers in their field, but also they can present their own work—some for the first time—to their peers. Lifelong professional connections and relationships, some of which will influence the arc of professional careers, are built and strengthened. Ideas are exchanged that spark new research, and new collaborations are forged. Skills for such things as engaging in science policy, communications, and navigating a career are developed.

An Increasing Need for Support

Each year, nearly 7,000 students attend AGU’s Fall Meeting. Many more would like to attend; however, the expense of traveling to and registering for the meeting can be prohibitive. As a result, many miss out. They miss out on presenting their research and receiving constructive feedback from their peers. They miss out on hearing the latest work of leading researchers. They miss out on opportunities to forge professional connections and relationships and to gain other useful skills for navigating their career, engaging in science policy, and effectively communicating their science. Nowhere else can an undergraduate or graduate student experience these opportunities all in one place.

A Dollar-for-Dollar Matching Gift

To bridge this gap, AGU established the Student Travel Grants program, which provides partial travel assistance to student presenters to attend Fall Meeting. While the program has helped many students attend their first Fall Meeting, the need continues to grow—only 18% of the nearly 1300 applicants received travel grants for the 2018 Fall Meeting.  Thankfully, Dr. Jamie Austin, a senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin, generously offered to establish the Austin Endowment for Student Travel in honor of AGU’s Centennial to support future generations. Dr. Austin has pledged to match each gift dollar-for-dollar—up to $1 million—to enlarge and support AGU’s Fall Meeting Student Travel Grants program, which will increase annual support to an additional 90 students each year.

Supporting the Next Generation

“I believe it is incumbent upon us—as members of the world’s largest Earth and space science society—to support the next generation of scientists who will be working on the front lines to advance the pursuit of knowledge, helping to ensure a sustainable future for all,” said Jamie Austin. “I can think of no better way to do this than by supporting AGU’s Fall Meeting Student Travel Grants program and opening new doors for the future.”

The repercussions of not having emerging talent attend Fall Meeting are far reaching.

The long-term effectiveness of Earth and space science research and its ability to benefit society depend on our building and sustaining a diverse, inclusive, and supportive workforce. The young scientists of today are tomorrow’s leaders, and they bring fresh research perspectives and new ways of thinking to the table, enriching discovery and innovation and leading to better, stronger science. By failing to support them, we fail to support ourselves and the future of Earth and space science.

Our goal was to secure $200,000 in commitments before publicly announcing this exciting opportunity, and we have spent the past several months working to raise the initial portion of the $1 million match for Dr. Austin’s gift. I am so incredibly pleased to say that AGU’s past and present leaders and other partners have stepped forward and made special gifts to support this important initiative. In fact, I am pleased to share that we exceeded our initial goal and received $215,000 in pledges and commitments in support of the Austin Challenge!

Rising to the Occasion

It is my hope that AGU members and the broader Earth and space science community will rise to the occasion by embracing this special opportunity during AGU’s Centennial and pledging their financial support for the Austin Endowment for Student Travel. Think back and remember the first time as a student you experienced the buzz of Fall Meeting as you presented in the poster hall, the first time you attended an inspiring presentation and were able to chat with the presenter afterward, or the first time you spoke to someone outside of your discipline at a reception and ended up making a connection that helped advance your science and your career. You can play an essential role in ensuring that other young scientists can benefit from those same kinds of foundational career experiences by being a part of the Austin Student Travel Grant Challenge.

Opening Doors for the Next 100 Years

Centennial offers an opportunity for people not just to reflect on the remarkable accomplishments of the past 100 years but also to consider how we will shape the next 100 years, including who will be doing the science,” said AGU president Eric Davidson. “I remember how pivotal and transformational attending scientific meetings was for me as a graduate student, so I am excited and optimistic that the Austin Endowment for Student Travel will fortify a diverse and talented new generation of students, so that they may prosper and feel welcomed by the AGU community as we commence our next century of challenges and opportunities in science.”

“Giving to the Austin Endowment is an amazing way we can each open the door to the AGU community for more students,” said AGU president-elect Robin Bell. ”But even more than that, giving is a way we can encourage young scientists and help them to connect with our scientific community. We can all remember our first AGU meeting and how important it was to us. A grant like this will allow more students to gain the experiences, skills, and connections that will help them to advance their careers and become the next generation of leading scientists.”

“Giving makes you feel good, knowing that you are helping to grow and develop our AGU community,” Bell continued. “But even more than that, you are encouraging young scientists and helping them to connect with our community and gain the experiences, skills, and connections that will allow them to persevere and flourish.”

AGU’s Centennial is a call to action for our future. The course of science and the scientists who facilitate it can change at an AGU meeting. How will you help the next generation of Earth and space scientists get the boost they need to join you on this journey? Please join me and the AGU leadership who have already contributed and invest in the future of young scientists by donating to the Austin Endowment for Student Travel.

  • Donate here to the Austin Endowment for Student Travel.
  • Learn more about the Austin Endowment for Student Travel.

—Chris McEntee (email: [email protected]), Executive Director/CEO, AGU

Citation: McEntee, C. (2018), Announcing the Austin Student Travel Grant Challenge, Eos, 99, Published on 31 October 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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