Difficult questions often require difficult answers. That has never been truer than in the days we are living in right now. For us in the zoo and aquarium realm, we are pondering many difficult questions including how do we create opportunities for successful science career path pursuits for everyone? How do we ensure a future of equitable and inclusive participation in our aquarium and zoo community?
My love and passion for science, specifically environmental science, started at a very young age. More importantly, this love for science was fostered by my family members. They exposed me to zoos, aquariums, the beach, the mountains, creeks, rivers, hiking trails, and we always had a home aquarium. Those experiences gave me a great appreciation for the natural world and the plants and animals that comprise these unique ecosystems. My family laid the foundation for an advocate for the environment; a person who was committed to teach others to respect and appreciate living organisms and the natural world.
However, that love and passion was sometimes diminished by a feeling of isolation throughout my education and work-related experiences. I can recall often being the only one in a science class that looked like me and having to navigate assumptions by others in my classes that believed I did not have lived experiences to enrich classroom dialogue. There were times that this would weigh on me. Sometimes I would even begin to second guess myself and question if this was the right career path for me. Eventually, I realized that this was the correct career path for me largely in part because of the foundation that was laid by my family. For individuals who do not have a similar foundation, the feelings of isolation and lack of support could extinguish their passion and cause them to pursue other career paths; to the detriment of us all.
We want and need to reach more people from more backgrounds that love animals or love science: that's how we create a lasting and diverse community.
By maintaining our current status quo, we unintentionally dissuade people from pursuing a career in some science-related fields. We must look to the future of this community and who will care for it as the leaders of tomorrow. We want and need to reach more people from more backgrounds that love animals or love science: that's how we create a lasting and diverse community.
We must have diverse voices. To do so, it is imperative to have open and honest conversations about equity and opportunity in our field. Through intentional conversations that seek to provide remedies, we must identify what the barriers are to a career in science and how we overcome them. I challenge my colleagues to have realistic plans and be intentionally heartfelt and vulnerably honest with each other on how we can achieve diversity and inclusion. We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable right now. In order to be equitable, we have to have a diverse coalition of people in the room and at the table that inform our decision making as well as help us identify our blind spots and our missteps.
As I reflect today, I would tell my younger self, sitting in science class overwhelmed by the feeling of isolation, that it will get better. It must get better. This field demands passion and these careers can come with tremendous sacrifice. But that passion is what yields the most incredible results, and we must ensure that we continue to invite and cultivate passionate individuals.
It’s urgent we do something now, so we have people that stand up for the work we do, care for our animals, and understand the role of zoos and aquariums. By opening doors to those who may never have even seen the door, we are creating the future stewards of zoos, aquariums, and the animals we love and care for. I look forward to these conversations with my colleagues to ensure that we honor our responsibility to open the doors to science careers—and leave them open.