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Diverse Voices, Shared Vision

Diverse Voices, Shared Vision

Written by: Brie L. '24

While some may find the unknown daunting, Sharon Dorsey and Amber Wendler have embraced it in their journeys through ecological research and activism. In their recent speech to the Kents Hill community, they shared their past experiences in science as well as their hopes for the future. Though their backgrounds are different, they share a distinct vision to foster community and inclusivity for people of color in the realm of environmental science. 

Dorsey, an endangered species biologist with a Master's in Fish and Wildlife Conservation from Virginia Tech, found her spark in high school while training with her track team. Racing through the woods near her high school, she began to have an appreciation for and interest in the habitats she was passing through. From there, she began to explore other opportunities in the realm of environmental science, including doing GIS mapping, general fieldwork, and wetland monitoring. In Dorsey’s years at George Mason University, she explored wildlife refuge management through an internship; following undergrad, Dorsey worked in the environmental consulting field and later conducted shorebird research as a graduate student at Virginia Tech. In her speech, she noted that she appreciated her shorebird research so much because “birds invite people to be more curious.” 

Wendler, an ornithologist and PhD candidate at Virginia Tech, noted that her camping and outdoor experiences solidified her love for environmental science and conservation. Throughout high school and college, Wendler has completed a wide range of research and embraced many experiences, including water quality testing, forest ecology, tropical ecology, marine biology, and fish and wildlife conservation. When asked what was the most impactful location she traveled for her research, Wendler replied that a study abroad trip to Ecuador as a young biologist hit her hard as she realized that she was seeing things for the very first time that [she would] probably never see again, and others might not have the chance to see ever. 

After sharing about themselves, the two activists revealed how they connected, and why their friendship is so special. Dorsey related it all back to Black Birders Week in 2020, when she found an entire community of like-minded people online. Wendler, an active member in the Black Birder community, inspired Dorsey so much that she decided to “slide into her DMs” (direct messages on instagram). From there, the two decided to meet up on campus at Virginia Tech. Being one of the few women and even fewer Black members of the environmental conservation field, being able to find another person similar to each of themselves was moving. In a space that had been isolating, they “found community in each other” (Dorsey). After a while, they began doing outreach events, fostering inclusivity, and introducing people to nature and science, particularly folks of color. Additionally, both were part of the creation of a collection of essays called Been Outside: Adventures of Black Women, Nonbinary, and Gender Nonconforming People in Nature.

Dorsey and Wendler’s friendship became the stepping stone for the majority of their activism. After realizing how powerful it was to find another person like themselves, they decided to be those people for someone else. In their speech, they noted how “it would’ve been great to see folks that looked like [them] while growing up.” Currently, they are both very involved with their communities, and the “Humble Hustle Company”, a non-profit organization that empowers Black youth and connects diverse communities by creating innovative, inclusive spaces that inspire hope and promote giving. 

Though Dorsey and Wendler’s “why” became clear throughout their presentation, they noted that the three main goals were to increase the representation of Black scientists, as less than three percent of foresters and conservation scientists in the U.S. are African American, to conserve declining populations, as 1 in 8 bird species are threatened or endangered, and to spend time outdoors, which can drastically improve health from with only two hours per week. 

Finally, Dorsey and Wendler articulated that though environmental research and conservation is important, it is not the only way to help the planet. Being an inventor that thinks innovatively and creatively about solutions to climate change, an educator to teach others about the planet, a steward to protect habitats, or a planner or architect that integrates greener city spaces are all ways to help. The two encouraged students interested in environmental science to apply for internships; attend conferences open to the public; join active research activist groups and societies with shared interests; start networking as soon as possible; and get a college degree. Though so many opportunities could seem overwhelming, Dorsey and Wendler’s advice is to try it all: Wendler urged us, “Try new things… this work can be challenging, [but it] can also be incredibly rewarding.” These two incredible women are examples of people who chose to embrace the new, the messy, and the challenging in order to make a difference in the future of the planet and the future of young Black scientists who can now look to them for inspiration.

Ben Miller, Amber Wendler, Sharon Dorsey, Margie Bailey