Over the two decades George Weiblen has done field research research in Papua New Guinea he’s created more than new knowledge. He established the first large-scale, long-term forest study plot in Oceania, co-founded the New Guinea Binatang Research Center, established a 20,000-acre conservation area, an international research facility (Swire Station) and a public elementary school.
These achievements, made possible through close collaboration with local communities, government, corporations and fellow scientists, highlight Weiblen’s exceptional commitment to community engagement. The university recently recognized that commitment with its 2017 President’s Engaged-Community Scholar Award.
“This accomplishment required the ability to work with diverse groups of people, an understanding and respect of the Papua New Guinea culture, a willingness to listen to their needs and learn their language, strategic planning and patience,” says Gary Muehlbauer, head of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. “The payoff of this multi-year effort has been profound.”
In addition to his work in Papua New Guinea, Weiblen is also the scientific director and curator of plants at the university’s Bell Museum of Natural History. In this role, he he works to engage citizen scientists both in the museum and through projects such as the Minnesota Biodiversity Atlas, an online database of the Bell’s scientific collections available to all.
“The atlas brings together all the Bell’s collections and makes them available to researchers, state agencies, policy makers, educators and the public to support new lines of inquiry and improve our understanding of our environment,” says Denise Young, executive director of the Bell Museum. “This resource is only available due to George’s vision of research and public engagement working hand-in-hand to positively affect our world.”
The university awards one faculty member this honor each year for their efforts in collaborating and working with external communities, something Weiblen has taken on during his 20 years of research in Papua New Guinea. Weiblen is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology.