Our People

Dawn O'Neal

Director, Strategic Initiatives

New York

Director of Strategic Initiatives

Dawn O'Neal Director of Strategic Initiatives © © Dawn O'Neal


Climate Change, Life History Evolution, Disease Ecology, Eco-Physiology, Diversity in Science




As the Director of Strategic Initiatives, Dawn provides leadership for Global Science’s programs and activities that support the strengthening of TNC’s scientific community, with an eye towards increasing the diversity of scientists.

Keeping with the Chief Scientist’s vision, she defines and prioritizes long-term strategies, programming, and activities so that TNC scientist are 1) able to build the strategic, scientific, and technical capacity to conduct and lead the work necessary to achieve TNC’s science priorities and 2) better prepared to influence and promote TNC’s science priorities internally and externally.

She also initiates, develops, and stewards key partnerships and relationships with government agencies, other conservation organizations, foundations, the academic community, and internal TNC networks to create a culture of innovation, adaptive learning, and risk-taking while maximizing the scientific and conservation impact of the Conservancy scientists and our partners.

A cornerstone of Dawn’s work is the Diversity in Science Pathway designed to engage scientists from diverse backgrounds to ensure the Conservancy is considering cultural, ethnic, and geographic factors that can help or hinder our conservation impact.  By leveraging traditional academic pathways, Dawn works to attract underrepresented minorities in science and add new areas of expertise, from engineering to social science to develop and implement practices that meet our increasing needs for food, water, and energy without exacerbating global climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

This Diversity in Science Pathway is making space for scientists to build interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral teams to better evaluate new tools, methods, and ideas. The Pathway also offers participants career building tools including access to research collaborations, science professional development, training around conservation standards, mentoring, and an annual networking event to engage more broadly with the conservation community.  In return, the projects led by Pathway scientists are where the organization is making some of its most important breakthroughs with direct application across all the Conservancy’s global priorities: lands, water, climate, oceans, and cities.

Similarly, to fully realize our Shared Conservation Agenda, the Conservancy’s current scientists must be equipped with the best biology, economics, and social science to make evidence-based investments to achieve our organizational goals as quickly and efficiently as possible. Through the Science Professional Development Initiative, Dawn has developed a program tailored to Conservancy scientist that promotes and fosters increased effectiveness though opportunities designed to increase productivity, enhance knowledge, and develop skills to better enrich Conservancy’s science priorities.

Dawn holds a BA in environmental studies from Washington University; a PhD in ecology, evolution, and behavior from Indiana University; and was a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Georgia. She has research experience in the fields of climate change biology, life history evolution, disease ecology, and eco-physiology.

Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, Dawn served as Executive Director of the Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station. In addition to her directorship, Dawn is also an Adjunct Professor at the University at Albany – State University of New York and serves on the Board of Directors of Outdoor Afro, the nation’s leading network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.

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