Kira Wiesinger, Conservation + Tech ’23 (Molecular Environmental Biology): “Grassroots, community-based efforts are the most effective way to create change.”
On getting outdoors, appreciating the world, and taking action to save it
Kira Wiesinger came to UC Berkeley to study environmental science and create change through conservation, after having volunteered at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo during high school. However, after her study abroad program at the UC Berkeley Gump Station in Moorea, French Polynesia exposed her to biological field research and her Berkeley Connect seminar provided her with insight into how data analysis is a crucial tool for ecological research, her focus shifted. Though she’s now pursuing Molecular Environmental Biology with a minor in Data Science, her passion for environmental conservation has never wavered. And through the Fung Fellowship, Kira continues to pursue just that.
This is her story.
Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Palo Alto, CA, then moved to Bellevue, WA at age seven. I like to joke with people that I moved back to the Bay Area for college because I missed the sunny weather. Now I miss the winter snowfall in the Pacific Northwest!
What do you study and why did you choose it?
Initially, I came in as an Environmental Sciences major because I was passionate about environmental conservation due to my experience as ZooCorps Teen Volunteer at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle during high school.
In my junior year, I switched to Molecular Environmental Biology because my study abroad program at the UC Berkeley Gump Station in Moorea, French Polynesia exposed me to biological field research. Discussions with guest professors in my first-year Berkeley Connect seminar provided insight into how data analysis is a crucial tool for ecological research, so I am also pursuing a data science minor.
What led you to apply and join the Fung Fellowship? Why did you choose the Conservation + Tech Track?
I have long admired conservation organizations, so I was very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to work directly with several through the Fung Fellowship. Using technology to address environmental problems fascinated me because I had taken some data science and coding classes but had not yet had an opportunity to apply skills from those classes to my passions.
The fellowship’s focus on solutions persuaded me to apply because I had previously taken the DeCal course called “Solutions for a Sustainable & Just Future” which emphasized the importance of environmental solutions and action rather than environmental awareness.
Collaborating with a team of students concerned about environmental issues and finding effective solutions felt like the most meaningful way I could spend my last year at UC Berkeley.
What are your professional goals?
I have started to apply to biologist positions and environmental conservation jobs. I hope to spend a year in the workforce to get a sense of potential careers before pursuing graduate school to study environmental biology or a related discipline. I’m considering pursuing a career as a researcher for an environmental organization such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, etc.
What are some of your hobbies/passions, and how have they inspired your professional goals?
I enjoy hiking, reading, traveling, and advocacy. Since my first year at UC Berkeley, I’ve been involved in the ASUC Eco Office through which I have advocated for a more sustainable and equitable University of California.
This past year, I have been one of the directors of Pour Out Pepsi which is the primary campaign in the ASUC Eco Office’s Department of Unsustainable Partnerships. This undergraduate student-led campaign aims to pressure the UC Berkeley administration to terminate their pouring rights contract with PepsiCo because the corporation is one of the largest plastic polluters in the world and perpetuates racial health disparities.
Recently, I also have started to love birdwatching because I am taking a course about the natural history of vertebrates, which includes weekly field trips around the Bay Area to observe birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
Getting outdoors allows me to reflect and appreciate the world which inspires me to take action for conservation.
Is there something you are currently working on/interested in that you would like to share?
For my second design challenge project in the Fung Fellowship, I am partnered with Heartland Rewilding, an organization restoring wild nature and promoting coexistence between wildlife and communities in the Midwest. I am collaborating with two other fellows to create a human-wildlife conflict reporting system focusing on carnivores, such as coyotes, bears, mountain lions, and wolves.
I’m looking forward to applying my data science and geographic information science skills. I’ve developed a love for the Midwest from childhood trips to see family around Lake Michigan, so I’m excited to support wildlife restoration in the region.
I am also the Professional Development Lead of the Fung Fellowship Student Leadership Board. I’ll be sharing opportunities and planning networking events for fellows.
What made you want to join the Fung Fellowship Student Leadership Board?
Joining the student leadership board seemed like a great opportunity to take on more responsibility in the fellowship, give back to the community by sharing opportunities with fellows, and connect directly with professionals in the conservation field. I was also looking forward to getting to know fellows better in both tracks of the fellowship.
What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?
My ambition has always been to have a major positive impact on the world, but I believe that grassroots, community-based efforts are the most effective way to create change. I’d like to work alongside activists to address injustice and collaborate for solutions that address the roots of systemic issues.
I have snorkeled with humpback whales and scuba dived with dolphins!