Nov. 30: Ecologist touts power of nature in prison reform

By Adrian Aumen, College of Arts & Sciences

Nadkarni-webPULLMAN, Wash. – An internationally renowned forest ecologist and leader in prison reform will talk about blending science, nature and social justice in a free, public address at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, in the CUB auditorium at Washington State University.

WSU will honor speaker Nalini Nadkarni with the 2015 William Julius Wilson Award for the Advancement of Social Justice in recognition of her work to promote social inclusiveness of incarcerated people and to reduce post-prison joblessness and recidivism.

Nadkarni helped launch the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) in Washington state. SPP reports saving the state prison system more than $1 million through reduced resource consumption and waste. Similar programs have begun at corrections facilities across the country.

Since 2004, SPP has delivered more than 100 science and sustainability lectures. Inmates, from minimum security to solitary confinement, have contributed to conservation efforts involving prairie plants, frogs, butterflies and bees while learning science and gaining job skills.

“By bringing science, nature and job training into prisons she has brought respect, a renewed sense of purpose and valuable job skills to the incarcerated,” said Julie Kmec, WSU professor of sociology and chair of the Wilson Award committee.

The event is cosponsored by the WSU Common Reading Program, this year focused on the book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stephenson, which deals with themes of incarceration and corrections.

Read about the nature imagery in prisons project in the Washington Post at

Read about a recent SPP project headed by a WSU graduate student at

About the speaker

Widely known as the “Queen of the Forest Canopy,” Nadkarni is a professor of biology at the University of Utah. She specializes in studying rainforest canopy organisms and their interactions in tropical rainforests.

Her recent awards include the National Science Foundation Public Service Award, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Engagement and the Archie Carr Medal for Conservation. Her work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Learn more at

About the William Julius Wilson Award and Symposium

WSU created the William Julius Wilson Award for the Advancement of Social Justice in 2009 to honor those who promote social inclusiveness and diversity in social policies and strive to reduce joblessness.

Wilson received his doctorate in sociology from WSU in 1966 and is widely considered one of the nation’s most influential sociologists. He is the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University.

The symposium and award are sponsored by the WSU Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Office of Equity and Diversity, Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Dean of Students, and Sociology Club. Learn more at


Julie Kmec, WSU Department of Sociology, 509-335-8760,
Adrian Aumen, WSU College of Arts and Sciences, 509-335-5671,