Change is the one guarantee in any ecological system. Although our ecosystems are undoubtedly changing, I am heartened by the resiliency of life on Earth.
High schoolMount Greylock Regional High School, Williamstown, MA, class of 2013
Ask Hallie Walker how she became an aspiring ecologist, and the dots quickly connect. “I’ve always been fascinated with how communities are organized. Why bugs live in a certain part of the yard, why grass grows taller in one area of the pasture.” An “almost-native” of Williamstown, Massachusetts (her family moved there when she was four), as a child Hallie helped her family raise sheep, which they showed at livestock festivals. “My favorite thing was tracking the sheep’s genetic lines, to identify the best breeding pairs.”
Although Hallie enjoyed her time on the farm, the pull toward scientific discovery and travel was stronger. “I remember watching a report on 60 Minutes about the Elephant Listening Project,” a field study of elephant communication, “and thinking ‘this is exactly what I want to do,’” she recalls. By the summer after her freshman year at Brown, she had landed an internship with Elephant Human Relations Aid, an elephant conservation NGO in Namibia, which she located through the Thoreau Foundation. Hallie eventually spent another year and a half studying abroad and interning in Tanzania and Botswana. “I was so excited about the work that I barely had time to be homesick,” she says.
Although she maintains her love for research, after her time abroad, Hallie returned home with a greater interest in policy work. In her own words, “the quality of your research doesn’t matter if you can’t translate it into policies and practices that create positive change. I hope to eventually be enough of an expert where my research enables policymakers to develop sound policy.”
Hallie credits the Thoreau Foundation with providing access to opportunities that might otherwise have been out of reach. “I couldn’t have gone to Brown without the scholarship, and the Scholars and alumni have been great sources of support and advice along the way.”
As she ventures into life after college, Hallie retains the optimism of that sheep-wrangling youth. “It’s easy to get really scared looking at the enormous change that is undoubtedly going to happen to our ecosystem through climate change and other environmental issues. But change is the one guarantee in any ecological system. Although our ecosystems are undoubtedly changing, I am heartened by the resiliency of life on Earth.”
Hallie encounters an elephant at Elephant Human Relations Aid in Namibia.
Hallie takes a blood sample from a prairie dog at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife