Dr. Kirsten Schwarz, an associate professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, has been named a program director with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology, helping select which research projects will be supported by the foundation’s $8.8 billion budget.
“My main motivation for serving was to dig a little deeper into how the co-production of science is, and can be, funded,” said Schwarz, an environmental health sciences professor whose research at UCLA focuses on environmental hazards and amenities in cities, ranging from lead contamination in soil to how shade can improve health by reducing extreme heat effects. “In my experience, the ways in which we fund and support co-produced research can have a major impact on its success.”
Schwarz is one of only three candidates selected by the NSF’s environmental biology division from a nation-wide pool of applicants, said Dr. Kendra McLauchlan, the program’s director.
“We are delighted that Dr. Schwarz has been able to join the Ecosystem Science program at the National Science Foundation as a rotating Program Officer; she has already made significant contributions to the program through her scientific expertise in urban ecology,” McLauchlan said. “We have seen that rotators and their institutions benefit from the experience of serving the public and the scientific community through the National Science Foundation. Dr. Schwarz will be gaining a deeper understanding of the scientific enterprise in the U.S. that she will bring back to UCLA.”
Schwarz’ assignment, officially part of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, brings experts from across academic and industry to the NSF to oversee the Foundation's “gold standard” merit review process and help define new funding opportunities. Key responsibilities include interacting with potential principal investigators, forming and facilitating merit review panels, and recommending funding decisions. The visiting experts, known as “rotators,” collaborate with both NSF staff and other experts in a given discipline, working across the entire breadth of U.S. and international science, engineering, and education.
“I’m grateful for the support that NSF has provided to my career and I’m especially looking forward to connecting new researchers with the programs that can support and expand their work,” Schwarz said. “I’m also excited to learn more about how we can support pathways towards equitably funded co-produced research. Most of all, I’m looking forward to learning from new colleagues and playing a small part in supporting great science with the broadest possible impacts.”
Schwarz, who is also a faculty affiliate with the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity, has taught at the university since 2020. She earned her PhD at Rutgers University; prior to joining UCLA, she was an associate professor at Northern Kentucky University.