Clare combines environmental knowledge and community at Open Valley Urban Ecosanctuary. She is passionate about conservation and the interplay between science and education.
What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?
I'm an Environmental Educator and Community Coordinator for a collaborative project called Open VUE (Valley Urban Ecosanctuary), which links together a community in the North East Valley of Dunedin with the Valley Project, Orokonui Ecosanctuary and the University of Otago.
This project crosses several different areas, such as science, mathematics, education, research, events coordination, writing and community liaison, so my average work day can vary a lot.
Every day is often very different! I could be spending the day only in the office, out working with schools, going on field work (collecting data with a family in their backyard nearby) or working on events.
If it’s a school day, I’ll refresh myself with the plan for the session and make sure I’ve got all the gear I need. I work with schools to engage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) related topics – tools for data collection to detect mammals, birds, lizards and invertebrates, conducting field work, analysis, display and next steps. I could be working with students from Year 1 up to Year 9, so the content and concepts can vary depending on the age group. Some of these students I may visit at home (field work) as part of the data collection aspect.
If I’m working in the field, I’ll first liaise with a family to visit them at their home later and organise the equipment and paperwork I need for us to detect mammals, birds, lizards or invertebrates. Each set of equipment comes with information for the family, so they know what they’re letting themselves in for!
Most of my office work involves preparing and analysing the collected data to present in a scientific report, in community notices and on social media. I might be spending some time liaising with collaborators and planning, promoting and organising community events – these events also often take me out of the office, such as planting at a nearby park or school celebration events!
I also do a smattering of other environmental education work – so I could be educating school groups on Quarantine Island or working with schools in the Halo Project area or with school groups at Orokonui Ecosanctuary, or doing activities as part of my role as a Curious Minds Ambassador.
What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?
My high school (Kerikeri) had brilliant teachers, who I think really helped to develop my interest in STEM subjects - particularly biology, chemistry and statistics. In Year 12, I had the opportunity to visit Dunedin and the University of Otago campus and absolutely loved it, so when the prospectus came around at school, I checked all the papers that were on offer and was really interested in the Zoology and Anthropology departments. I chose my subjects for Year 13 based on the requirements for Zoology at the time.
Throughout university I studied a Zoology major and Anthropology minor, and in third year, one of our lecturers promoted the Post Graduate Diploma in Wildlife Management in class and I thought this would be a challenging and interesting course to undertake. I met with one of the coordinators (who is now a colleague!), to discuss the course and after the application process I managed to get in.
I absolutely loved it and followed my Post Graduate Diploma with a research Masters of Zoology discovering the spatial ecology of cats. I was interested in finding out about individual movements of pet cats using GPS collars (some walk much further than you may think!) as well as detecting population movements of feral cats using genetics.
Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?
I was very fortunate in the timing of my studies, particularly my Masters – almost immediately after I finished it, while I was volunteering as an educator for Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a job opportunity arose with the Halo Project that involved working on GPS tracking pet cats with school children (‘How Safe is My Cat?’ a Curious Minds funded project through the Otago Participatory Science Platform).
Working so closely with schools and children in classrooms and at home was something mostly new to me but fortunately, I have been surrounded by many friendly faces who have lent a hand. With the end of the ‘How Safe is My Cat?’ project, the Open VUE project was initiated (another Participatory Science Platform funded project), where I was recommended to deliver and coordinate a backyard biodiversity programme in local schools, with strong links to STEM subjects and the vision to see Kākā dispersing from nearby Orokonui Ecosanctuary to the wider Dunedin region.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?
If you’re passionate about something and it’s something that you really do enjoy, just go for it!
Think ahead about where you might like to be, and prepare where necessary. But if you decide along the way that perhaps you’d like to do something else, that’s absolutely fine too – many skills and experiences you learn in one instance can be applied to a whole range of different areas.
Sometimes you may have the opportunity to do something totally new – by stepping outside the comfort zone, you might find and develop new skills and interests you are passionate about. When it comes to new experiences, it’s totally ok to ask for help or discuss any limitations with your colleagues – you might find they begin asking you for advice too!
What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?
As a highlight, there’s nothing quite like meeting and engaging with incredibly passionate young people who are switched on and are enthusiastic to learn more about STEM, biodiversity and wildlife, and seeing their interests develop over time working with them.
Another highlight is securing funding to be able to continue working with young people and their families, and having the opportunity to expand the project to work with the wider community about subjects that I am also passionate about.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?
Engaging with STEM is important as we continue to grow as a country. STEM skills are likely to become more important to allow us to continue to push the boundaries of our current knowledge, especially when STEM issues become more present. The range of skills and experiences provided by STEM are often not specific to just STEM fields and can be applicable to many different career paths.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?
More women working in STEM will increase diversity in the field which can contribute towards greater innovation and problem solving. A range of expertise, skill sets, and experiences can all contribute towards more advances in STEM fields.
By redefining the ‘norm’ of what a person working in STEM looks like, we can encourage more women to engage with STEM subjects and fill key positions with capable and talented people.
Clare is an Environmental Educator and Community Coordinator for a collaborative project called Open VUE (Valley Urban Ecosanctuary). She also occasionally spends time as an educator for Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Quarantine Island and the Halo Project as well as being a Curious Minds Ambassador. Clare is passionate about conservation and the interplay between science and education.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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