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Cultivating diverse communities

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Emily Cardarelli
Photo courtesy of Emily Cardarelli

Emily Cardarelli

PhD Student
Earth System Science

October 14, 2019

With parents in the military, Emily Cardarelli had moved the Earth’s circumference, about 24,900 miles,  before ending up at Stanford for her graduate education. “My childhood really shaped my love for the environment. I was obsessed with exploring and gained a deep appreciation for the diverse environments I lived in, from mountains in upstate New York to tropical Hawaiian rainforests to the river valleys in Tennessee and coasts in Seattle,” Cardarelli said. 

As her parents maneuvered their military careers worldwide, it instilled a strong sense of community, she said. “Watching my mother work was especially impactful. She oversaw protecting wetlands and flood control structures in the U.S., and built schools and hospitals in Baghdad, Iraq. Everywhere she went, she would tell me the key to getting her job done was building a rapport with the local communities.”

Cardarelli’s scientific work focuses on communities of a different kind – she studies microbial communities that live below ground. “These micro-sized communities are not unlike our own. They have community functions, have interactions with each other and exchange resources  all very much like we do. But we are just beginning to learn about these newly discovered ecosystems.” Cardarelli’s work takes place across five sites in the western semi-arid climates that are adjacent to rivers. Her research involves using DNA techniques to identify where specific microbes reside below ground and what their geochemical niches look like. 

“I have thought a lot about the value of microbial diversity in my work [which] got me thinking about the value of diversity in academia.” Alongside another graduate student, Cardarelli developed and taught the course Diversity and Inclusion in the Geosciences, which focused on finding ways to not only recognize the importance of diverse backgrounds in the Earth Sciences, but also to create tangible actions for normalizing inclusion in academia. One important takeaway: “In the soil, and in the world, I have learned that often the more diverse the community is, the more resilient the community is.”