E.O. Wilson Visit to UA

“It’s obvious that the key problem facing humanity in the coming century is how to bring a better quality of life  – for 8 billion or more people  – without wrecking the environment entirely in the attempt.” – E.O. Wilson

Last fall, the legendary E.O. Wilson, Alabama alum and one of the world’s most eminent naturalists, visited campus to speak with E.O. Wilson Fellows, meet UA faculty, and witness an exhibit opening at the Alabama Museum of Natural History honoring his work and the tremendous impact he has had on generations of students. His lifetime of work serves as an inspiration for all biologists, as does his tireless advocacy for broader research and understanding of our biodiverse planet.  We are thankful to have had the opportunity to share this visit with someone who holds such an esteemed presence in the world of biological sciences.

As Dr. Wilson has said, “the world needs all you can give,” and we encourage our students to use what they learn at UA to do just that – to go out into the world and be a persistent voice in sharing their expertise as it relates to their field of study.

Our E.O. Wilson Fellows found that sharing these moments – a luncheon and an exhibit opening – with a living legend had a profound impact which will stay with them throughout their academic careers, as is illustrated in the letter below. Thank you, Dr. Wilson, for sharing your time and wisdom with us.

E. O. Wilson Fellows with E. O. Wilson

Dear Dr. Wilson,

You know the beauty of fieldwork. The peace of connecting with an organism so intimately in its natural environment couples with the thrill of revealing the formerly unknown to produce an experience that mimics enchantment. For many of us, your books provided our first glimpse of that beauty. Your words fanned a tiny spark of passion for scientific exploration into a flame that will never be extinguished. For all of us, your fellowship has afforded the opportunity to pursue that passion. In our collective travels over the past 5 summers, we have journeyed more than 47,000 miles and spent countless hours in the field, experiencing the beauty of fieldwork for ourselves and joining the ranks of researchers dedicated to the understanding and preservation of biodiversity. We have contributed to the management of threatened, endangered, and invasive species, discovered new populations of organisms, investigated ecology and natural history, and performed genetic and computational analyses to understand biodiversity a little bit more.

Sitting down to a luncheon with you, one of the world’s most eminent naturalists, was a surreal experience for all of us. What was meant to last an hour stretched to two, and two still were not enough. Your stories carried subtle, yet weighty, commentary on the state of science over your career while providing relatable anecdotes that humanized yourself and the other giants alongside you. You questioned each one of us about our research, commented on our studies’ value, and supported our progress. You advised us to be “a little rebellious” with our science, and not to be afraid to challenge dogma if necessary. You encouraged us to persist in our endeavors and to be open to blending old methods with new. When we met later to discuss the luncheon among ourselves, many of us commented on your kind and supportive spirit, and how, despite our expectations of being intimidated, you put us immediately at ease. Life changing, meaningful, reinvigorating, enduring, and wonderful are just a few of the words that were used to describe your impact on our lives.

I doubt you will ever realize the full extent of your impact on us (and the world we live in). Each of us E.O. Wilson fellows has been given the unique opportunity to pursue our scientific dreams while being supported, in more ways than one, by a true hero of science. Not only has your fellowship provided financial assistance essential for our research endeavors, but you have also impacted us through your books and words. Every single one of us is immensely grateful for your support. We are striving to become, as you charged us, not only experts, but the experts in our respective fields.

Thank you,
The E.O. Wilson Fellows