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Two women, standing in a room full of cacti. They are wearing dark black colored clothing.

Abby Webster (Left) and Elizabeth Clippard (Right)

ESF Students Receive SUNY Awards for Graduate Research Tackling Pressing Environmental Issues

Syracuse, N.Y. – Two graduate students from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) are among 33 students selected for the 2023 SUNY Graduate Research Empowering and Accelerating Talent (GREAT) award. Recognized as outstanding student researchers, Elizabeth Clippard and Abby Webster will each receive $5,000 in flexible funding for research expenses, professional development, and stipend supplements.

"Our graduate students are at the forefront of innovative environmental research addressing the challenges of climate change that have regional and national impacts,” said ESF President Joanie Mahoney. “Elizabeth's analysis could impact future invasive species detection and management, as well as errors in forest carbon estimation, while Abby's work will inform scientists, citizens, and stakeholders of the potential risks associated with toxic benthic cyanobacteria in lakes. The ESF community congratulates them both and appreciates this award opportunity from SUNY to help them both continue their important research to improve our world."

The SUNY GREAT Award program, now entering its third year, provides incentives for SUNY graduate students to compete for federal awards sponsored by agencies including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Energy, among others.  

Clippard works in ESF’s Climate and Applied Forest Research Institute (CAFRI), where she is in the early stages of a project on remote sensing of the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that has decimated ash trees along the eastern United States. Ash death is relatively fast, as the beetle larvae girdles the tree, and this decline could have a distinct spectral pattern over time. Her analysis could impact future invasive species detection and management, as well as errors in forest carbon estimation. Clippard is a master’s student in forest resources management in the Department of Sustainable Resources Management.

Webster’s research focuses on harmful algal blooms (HABs), which threaten the use of freshwaters and coastal environments worldwide. Most research on HABs has focused on planktonic algae, despite knowledge that benthic algae can also produce harmful toxins and are increasing in proliferation. Webster’s research aims to characterize the benthic cyanobacteria community in the Finger Lakes of New York State, where HABs are common during summer. This work will inform scientists, citizens, and stakeholders of the potential risk associated with toxic benthic cyanobacteria in lakes that are important for recreation, food sources, and residential water use. Webster is a doctoral student in the College’s Department of Environmental Biology.

“Each of our GREAT Award recipients exemplifies how SUNY is addressing complex problems with groundbreaking ideas and research,” said SUNY Chancellor John B. King. “We are pleased to congratulate all 33 awardees for their dedication to improving the lives of others. Research will always be a pillar of higher education, especially at SUNY, and I implore all our students to always stay curious and seek out new ways to advance our society.” 


The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is dedicated to the study of the environment, developing renewable technologies, and building a sustainable and resilient future through design, policy, and management of the environment and natural resources. Members of the College community share a passion for protecting the health of the planet and a deep commitment to the rigorous application of science to improve the way humans interact with the world. The College offers academic programs ranging from the associate of applied science to the Doctor of Philosophy. ESF students live, study and do research on the main campus in Syracuse, N.Y., and on 25,000 acres of field stations in a variety of ecosystems across the state.

About The State University of New York 

The State University of New York (SUNY) is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY's 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit