Clara Lepard: Science and the art of human connection

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Clara Lepard

Clara Lepard is a senior majoring in zoology with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies from East Lansing, Mich., and a College of Natural Science Dean’s Research Scholar.

When I was little, growing up in a small apartment in Los Angeles, I would sit cross-legged in the middle of our living room floor and watch TV programs about faraway places and the animals that lived there. I watched scientists and TV personalities handling rattlesnakes on poles and researchers in jeeps tracking down families of leopards. I soaked up information about different species and where they lived. My fascination with nature and my passion for zoology originated in my living room and grew stronger with visits to the zoo and the mountains, where my family and I would explore and go looking for adventures of our own.

As I studied hard and developed into the zoologist I am today, I attributed much of my passion to what I learned from those shows as a child. I assumed that the fact-rich programming fed my academic pursuits – that it was my interest in the science at hand that kept me coming back to watch again and again.

Looking back, however, I recognize there was a bigger factor at play. In the beginning, it didn’t matter to me what species was being studied, or what ecosystem was being visited. I didn’t care about the unique anatomy of a rare type of frog. I cared about the people on the screen. I wanted to know what they were feeling and to laugh at their jokes. I wanted to hear about the difficulties of travel and watch friends tease each other in the field. I wanted to see the beautiful landscapes they were seeing and share their admiration for it all. I wanted to be a part of their world, which included all of the research and zoological discovery they took part in.

As scientists, we must remember the importance of human connection in what we do. We must embrace the arts. Art, in its many forms, is the attempt to connect people. Through it we tell stories and empathize with one another.  In a world facing seemingly insurmountable problems, we know there’s a need to engage the public and make scientific discovery a part of our everyday lives. I believe that by combining our empirical skills with the essence of the arts, we can make that change happen. As our world becomes more and more connected through social media and the globalization of information, we have an important job ahead of us. We have to connect people to science. And with that comes connecting people to each other.

The research we do is the story we tell and it’s our responsibility to make that story known. No matter what we study or how complex it may be to explain, it can be made relatable. We can examine what brought us here and why it matters to us personally. We can share that experience with others.

We have the incredible opportunity to reach out, and inspire others to join us on the road of discovery. Through the art of human connection, we will succeed.