"I grew up surrounded by nature in the White Mountains of New Hampshire," said Jennifer Brady '16, this year's Bucknell University student Commencement speaker. "One of the first hobbies I remember having is raising giant silkworm moths with my father. We started when I was 5 and continued all the way through elementary and middle school. It made me fascinated with how animals live."
When Brady discovered the animal behavior degree at Bucknell during her college search, she was attracted by both the major and the resources available here, which she has used to forge her way toward a career in wildlife conservation.
She says that her academic experience and the undergraduate research she pursued with Professor Reggie Gazes in the primate lab has been more than she could have hoped for, describing many of her professors as kindred spirits. "I feel fortunate to be surrounded by this academic community," she said.
While the sciences have been central to her experience, Brady minors in creative writing, recently earning second place for poetry in Bucknell's Cadigan Prize for Younger Writers competition. The judges described her work as "deeply ecological...[celebrating] the ancient and enduring resilience of our earth, even as she acknowledges the threats it faces."
Most people tell Brady that creative writing seems miles away from animal behavior, but to her, they are almost the same subject. "It's just looking at different sides of life," she said. "I want to dig into the diversity of life around me. The sciences have helped me learn so much about that at a very intellectual level, everything from evolution and how things interact, change and persist in the world to how they work at a very small scale. The English side touches on how we interact emotionally about this — how we formulate it in our minds."
Her creative writing mentor, Katie Hays, director of the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, agrees. "You hear about 'science people' and 'artsy people' as if each of us can be reduced to one or the other," she said. "Jennifer defies those categories. In the courses she took with me, I could count on her to bring scientific knowledge into her creative work. She's a bridge-builder, curious and receptive and energetic, connecting disciplines and people. I'm so grateful to have worked with her, and I'm eager to follow her work as a creative writer and scientist after graduation."
During her junior year, Brady studied abroad in Australia through the School for International Training, where she spent time working with with small marsupials called dibblers and western swamp tortoises, both thought to be extinct for more than 50 years.
She spent her summers gaining experience through internships at Elaine Connors Center for Wildlife in New Hampshire, where she worked in wildlife rehabilitation; Buttonwood Park Zoo in Massachusetts, where she worked with many species, including elephants, cougars and bison; and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in California, where she worked with the rapidly disappearing Pacific pocket mice.
In the future, she wants to focus on animals that don't get much attention. "I'm interested in animals that represent a lot of genetic diversity and are in the last-ditch struggle to survive," she said. "And I really want to work with zoos. Zoos get a bad rap and I spend a lot of time defending them, because I think the modern zoo is ideally a conservation organization that provides education to the public."
Brady also served as a teaching assistant with Professor Mark Haussmann, biology, an experience she says helped her better understand the learning goals her professors are working toward.
"Jennifer is one of the best T.A.'s I've been lucky enough to work with," said Haussmann. "She is an incredibly well-rounded student. She balances being very bright with being self aware; she has well-reasoned viewpoints, and is also open minded. She's both hard working and conscientious. It's been an absolute pleasure to work with her, and I know whatever she does next, she will make Bucknell proud."
In August, Brady will leave for Nepal as a part of the School for International Training's Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program, where she'll have the opportunity to explore the relationship between conservation and human culture. "Historically, conservation has often ignored people and bulldozed over local communities," she said. "We need to understand and respect local cultures. My goal is to expose myself to something that isn't familiar to continue to force myself out of my own preconceptions."
Upon her return, she plans to apply to pursue a master's degree in zoo, aquarium and animal shelter management, setting her sights on Colorado State University's program.
Brady says that being chosen as the student Commencement speaker is an honor. She is excited to share not only her own experience, but the collective experience of the Class of 2016 and Bucknellians everywhere.
What would she say to the incoming Class of 2020? "Keep your minds open. Everything is what you make of it. Just because at first you're not interested in an experience, idea, person or perspective doesn't mean it has to be a threat to you. Don't just dismiss it. Instead, let yourself sit quietly with an open mind. If you don't agree, try to understand why they think what they think instead of just pushing back. Experiences have inherent opportunities to be great, to be awful, to be anything — you choose what to take from it."
Bucknell University's 166th Commencement celebration will be held on the Malesardi Quadrangle on Sunday, May 22, beginning at 10 a.m. Bucknell alumnus and President and CEO of CBS Corp. Leslie Moonves will deliver the keynote address. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be live streamed. The ceremony will also be shown in Trout Auditorium in the Vaughan Literature Building. For a complete schedule of commencement events, registration and general information, visit Commencement 2016.
Barring heavy rain or severe weather, the Commencement ceremony will be held outdoors; guests should dress accordingly. In the event inclement weather prompts a decision to hold the ceremony indoors, an alert will be emailed to the campus community and posted to the University's homepage and social media channels.