The older I get and the more ‘seasoned’ I become in this science outreach arena, I come to believe more and more that role models matter. In each person there is the capacity to grow and prosper and for many people, this tenacity to thrive cannot be denied, no matter the circumstances presented to them. However, I cannot help but believe that no matter how inspiring these testimonies of perseverance and hard-work are, most of those individuals, at some point or another, prayed that they had had some sort of guidance to make the road a little less convoluted.

And today, when I talk to young people or parents/teachers who ask me questions about science and education, it keeps coming back to their interests in know, Who has paved this road before? Because surely someone else has done it? No matter how independent and strong-minded we are, at the end of day, no one likes to feel all alone at the end of the journey. If we can’t have company, then we at least want know that we’re following in someone’s footsteps or that someone is following in ours. We want to be part of something. I like for people to know who these other people are – whether they be pioneers or masters or journeymen along the way. In fact, when comes to careers in nature and the outdoors, there are role models, alive and with us now, for people – young and young-at-heart to look up to.

1. David Lindo, The Urban Birder – Birder & Wildlife Photographer
Whenever I discuss lessons about the scientific method, I tell students that observation is the foundation of all scientific pursuits. The very act of paying close attention – watching and listening – is the beginning of every scientific endeavor. And no one embodies this more than David Lindo. A Londoner who began his hobby career as a Naturalist, Birder and Urban Ecologist at the age of nine. Naturalists are individuals who study the natural history of organisms, like plants and animals in the wild. If you have ever visited a State or National Park and went on a tour where someone pointed out different wildlife and explained to you how they lived, survived weather changes, competed for food/shelter/mates and died, then you met a Naturalist. You don’t have to have a college degree to become a naturalist, but it does take years of study to become a good one.

Read more about Urban Bird Watching with David Lindo here.

2. Akiima Price, Environmental Educator
Formerly the Chief of Education with the New York Restoration Project, this DC/Baltimore native found her way to a career in Environmental Education, via a serendipitous summer job experience. Now she is an Environmental Education Curriculum specialist who specifically focuses on how to involve urban audiences in environmental science and proactive initiatives to improve their own health and communities. Environmental Education are formal and informal science and social science studies about how nature works, how people interact with nature and wildlife, as well as our roles as consumers, protectors, and stewards. Most jobs in environmental education require at least a college degree and environmental educators work in middle/high schools, museums, and sometimes for non-profit environmental organizations.

Learn more about what Akiima Price does, here:

3. Dr. Stewart Pickett, Urban Ecologist
I was first made aware by Dr. Pickett March of 2009 when I was having a conversation with Dr. Peter Raven, yes, THE Peter Raven, and telling him my interest in urban ecology and diversity in science outreach. He told me about his colleague and suggested I look him up for future opportunities. Fast forward to May 16th and I’m attending the annual American Institute of Biological Sciences meeting in Washington, DC. I am sitting next to a distinguished gentleman who is tells me he enjoys my blog – Urban Science Adventures! and that he voted for me to receive my award. We share pleasantries and realize we know some of the same people, including person #5, below. It wasn’t until he walked away that I noticed his name tag, Dr. Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies. Dr. Stewart is a Researcher and Plant Ecologist and studies plant communities including different species that live in certain environments, especially human-dominated environments like inner-cities. At his professional level, a graduate degree in biology, botany, or ecology are required to design and carry out such large-scale scientific studies.

If you want to know more about Urban Ecology, check out his presentation about the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, here.

4. Dr. Charles Nilon, Wildlife Ecologist
Dr. Nilon studies how urbanization affects wildlife – both the communities of plants and animals and their habitats. He is a Professor in the Fisheries & Wildlife Sciences Department at the University of Missouri. He and his students study how plants and animals respond to changes in their environment as human-development moves in, for example studying wildlife in more sub-urban areas and then tracking those changes as neighborhoods become more and more urbanized over time. College professors who conduct large-scale research projects and mentor other students require a graduate level degree, a PhD, in the life sciences such as biology, zoology, natural resources, ecology, or wildlife & fisheries.

Learn more about Dr. Nilon’s route to becoming a Wildlife Ecologist, here.

5. Dr. Tommy Parker, Biologist
I must disclose that I know Tommy. We went to graduate school together and received our Master’s degrees from the same institution. We both grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and like most inner-city kids spent our summers and after-school evenings playing outside in parks. We also realized we really enjoyed the outdoors, getting dirty and watching animals. Maybe that’s why kids like us grow up to come biologists who study wildlife who live in urban areas. Now, Tommy is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Head of the Urban Wildlife Research Lab at the University of Louisville. A graduate level degree in biology, ecology, or wildlife biology is necessary to have a successful career in urban wildlife biology. Wildlife biologists find jobs working in research labs at universities, government agencies like US Fish & Wildlife or Forestry Services, and sometimes with non-governmental organizations like the Sierra Club.

Learn more about Dr. Parker’s research of urban wildlife, here.


This post is part of my Black History Month, Blacks in Science tribute and will be submitted to the Diversity in Science Carnival, February 2012 edition.