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Dr. Gillespie is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and holds the Schlinger Chair of Systematic Entomology. She is also the Director of the Essig Museum of Entomology. Dr. Gillespie epitomizes the goals of the PAESMEM Program. She has a very active and long history as a mentor for underrepresented groups in science, particularly Pacific Islanders and women, and is the leading researcher in her field.
Intellectual Merit: Gillespie's research concerns the origins of species and ecology of spiders, particularly of the remote islands of the Pacific. She is best known for using the remarkable isolation and geological history of "hot-spot" archipelagoes as a scientific laboratory. Because much of the spider biota in these regions is unknown, Gillespie has had to work from the very basics, including describing many new species and understanding their biology. She has numerous publications in this area. As a result of this foundation, Gillespie and her research group have been able to make several profound discoveries, including the notion that similar ecological communities can arise multiple times from independent origins.
Broader Impacts: While at the University of Hawaii, Gillespie applied for and was funded for a grant in NSF's program for Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology, with the goal of exposing Pacific island students to careers in environmental science and conservation biology. In this program, Gillespie and colleagues found they needed to change fundamentally the way in which they connected to and attracted students from underrepresented groups. These lessons have had a lasting impact on NSF's UMEB program and have been instrumental in recruitment in the other large mentoring programs, which Gillespie also coordinates. Also while at Hawaii, Gillespie helped spearhead a successful proposal to NSF's GK-12 program, which helps train graduate students by incorporating them into local schools with a large proportion of underrepresented students. This multi-million dollar grant targeted schools with Pacific Islanders on Oahu. Following this model, Gillespie was funded at Berkeley as the lead for another NSF GK-12 proposal. This grant focuses on schools in Oakland and Richmond and also makes use of Berkeley's field stations and museum resources. In addition to the big program initiatives, Gillespie has been a personal and sustained mentor to a diverse group of Pacific Islanders, particularly women. She has hosted numerous Micronesian undergraduates in her lab over the years both at Hawaii and more recently at Berkeley. Gillespie's efforts have been extraordinary in many ways, particularly in addressing the cultural differences, which these students experience.