Established in 2001, the Chesapeake Watershed Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit (CHWA CESU) is a partnership among 69 university/research institutions/non-governmental and nonprofit conservation organizations and 12 federal agencies with the mission of fostering stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay watershed through collaborative research, technical assistance, and education in support integrated ecosystem management. The CHWA CESU addresses the complex and interrelated biological, physical, cultural, and social resources and issues within this urbanizing landscape. It is the largest CESU in terms of membership among the 17 regional CESUs in the United States.
In 2021, the CHWA CESU master cooperative agreement with the Appalachian Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES-AL) as host institution was successfully renewed for another five-year term for 2021 through 2026. Following successful renewal as host institution, UMCES-AL worked with both federal and non-federal partners to develop this CHWA CESU Strategic Plan (2021-2026). This plan has been informed both by our mission as well as by feedback from the renewal process and a March 2022 online survey distributed to federal and non-federal partners. This plan identifies goals, objectives, and proposed actions to help achieve those objectives over the current five-year term of the CHWA CESU cooperative agreement. It is important to recognize that strategic activities may require funding beyond the annual host support funding. UMCES-AL and the National Park Service (NPS) Research Coordinator are seeking additional sources of funding to support some of the initiatives outlined below, without which our ability to achieve these goals and objectives may be limited.
The research coordinator and supporting staff at the host institution will present a summary of progress on the Strategic Plan at the annual partners meeting and provide an opportunity for representatives from the partner agencies and institutions to provide feedback.
Goals and Objectives
The federal and non-federal members of the CHWA CESU support the following goals, objectives, and actions for the 2021-2026 renewal period. The research coordinator and supporting staff at the host institution are committed to furthering the following objectives whenever possible through the CESU network as projects are executed through this funding vehicle.
Goal 1: Facilitate the collaborative ideal of the CESU Network
A desire for additional opportunities for collaboration across the CHWA CESU was specifically mentioned through the 2020 renewal process as well as in the 2022 Strategic Plan survey results. Although the Experts Database was a positive step toward facilitating collaboration, feedback has suggested that many still are unaware of the power of this database to help connect federal partners with experts to help provide technical assistance, research support, and educational opportunities, as well as to help connect non-federal partners with each other. Feedback from partners has also indicated an interest in connecting with partners on shared subject matter and common research interests. As host institution, UMCES-AL plans to improve efforts to facilitate collaboration in the following ways:
- Promote the Experts Database to help realize its full potential
- Develop orientation materials or a website FAQ for new partners to introduce them to the CESU Network
- Incorporate networking and professional development activities at the annual partners meeting
- Organize and host a quarterly CHWA CESU virtual seminar series to feature ongoing work related to the CESU
- Investigate the potential for coordinating training opportunities provided by federal partners to proactively address ongoing challenges and objectives, like national historic landmark and national register work and climate resilience planning related to threats to cultural, historical, and natural resources
Goal 2: Promote and foster strategic growth
The size of the CHWA CESU network can sometimes pose challenges to both our federal and non-federal partners. Over a quarter of the more than 60 non-federal partners had no reported projects with participating federal agencies during the 2016-2021 term. Many of the efforts outlined under Objectives #1 and #2 could also help improve awareness among federal partners of other potential research partners. The Research Coordinator also plans the following activities to help support this goal:
- Reach out to additional potential federal agencies identified from survey feedback to try to increase the number of federal partners with which to collaborate
- Strategically recruit non-federal partners who fill any currently unmet need for skills not already available within the network
Goal 3: Improve justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI)
The CESU Council, which is comprised of senior representatives from all participating Federal agencies and serves as the governing body for the CESU Network, identified concerns over a lack of detailed description of efforts to engage underrepresented populations and recommended that plans be developed inclusions and for related outreach and engagement over the next five years. Several previously underrepresented organizations are currently experiencing a substantial increase in well-intentioned outreach requests. We, therefore, recognize the need for thoughtful and informed engagement approaches to avoid overburdening these partners. The CHWA CESU administrative team proposes the following actions and plans to re-assess as a network at our annual partners meeting:
- Develop a public CHWA CESU diversity statement
- Continue to improve the accessibility of CESU communications
- Improve website accessibility by following accepted best practices
- Continue to provide captioning services for annual meetings
- Host will establish a volunteer CHWA CESU JEDI workgroup comprised of both federal and non-federal partners to help guide and inform initiatives to improve JEDI
- Increase the time period between the release of federal partner RSOIs and proposal submission deadlines to allow non-federal partners of all sizes and capacities sufficient time to respond
- Strive to amplify projects and activities that contribute to positive JEDI outcomes using existing communication tools, like the website, social media, Experts Database, and the biannual newsletter
Goal 4: Prioritize student engagement
Learning and professional development opportunities, including research activities and internships, can benefit both students and CESU Network members. We would like to enrich student engagement through the following approaches:
- Encourage federal partners to increase funding for student opportunities to gain practical experience on applied projects and encourage non-federal partners to include students in their work
- Feature projects that involve students in the newsletter, on the website, and on social media through the development of video shorts
- Attempt to identify/seek funding source for a virtual student symposium or student research award
- Establish a volunteer CHWA CESU Student Engagement workgroup comprised of both federal and non-federal partners to help guide and inform activities to enrich student engagement