Dr. Kristen Lear grew up a stone’s throw from the second largest Great Park, Winton Woods. As a child, Kristen was drawn to the creepy and unloved creatures of the natural world. Primarily, her interest was piqued by bats, and that interest has never wandered. Working with organizations like National Geographic and Bat Conservation International, Kristen’s passion has led her around the world in a mission to preserve and educate people about these flying mammals. Kristen sat down with us to break down her inspirations, barriers and advice for budding conservationists.
Meet Dr. Kristen Lear (she/her)
Great Parks: How and why did you get into the world of conservation?
Kristen Lear: I really fell in love with bats when I was a little kid. I had the book “Stellaluna,” which is a children’s book about bats that came with a stuffed animal. After I read that, I would take night hikes with my Girl Scout troop. During these hikes, I could see and hear bats flying around. I was drawn to them. Many people believe that bats are creepy or scary, and they’re not! As I grew up, I became more involved in bat conservation through hands-on endeavors. When I was 12, I built a few bat houses for my Girl Scout Silver Award project, and that was my first real hands-on experience. Field research came during college, which cemented my love of bats and desire to pursue a career in bat conservation.
GP: Did you experience any barriers in this field? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
KL: One of the biggest things that happens with students and graduate students is imposter syndrome … especially for women. We think that we are not good enough, or not working on a level that we need to be. This is something that still plagues me today. I constantly compare myself to others. To get through that though, I remember you have to remind yourself that you wouldn’t be where you are right now if the people around you didn’t think you were worthy of being there. Letting that sink into your brain is important.
Conservation of bats can also be difficult … they’re not as charismatic as tigers, elephants etc. That is a challenge, but it also excites me. Getting to talk to people and show them how important bats are can help sway people’s opinions.
GP: What value do you believe parks and other public green spaces have in conservation efforts?
KL: Parks and green spaces have a two-fold benefit. The first is that they provide habitat for wildlife and plants. They also often have their own programs for conservation. On a broader level though, I think it is the education and the experiences. There is a saying that goes “We don’t protect what we don’t know.” If you don’t know about something, you are less likely to want to protect it. By offering various experiences, parks engage with people who then will be encouraged to want to help.
GP: What would you recommend to someone who wants to get involved in the world of conservation?
KL: I would recommend looking for volunteer opportunities. You never know who you will meet and where that could lead into the future. Now, with the internet, there are so many ways to find out about these opportunities. Taking advantage of these is the best way to get involved.
You can also research various conservation organizations to start following the work they do. Oftentimes, these organizations will have ‘how to help’ pages on their websites. Whatever your level, wherever you are, there is some way to help.
Kristen has become an active role model for young women in STEM through programs like Girl Scouts and the IF/THEN Initiative. She was even recently featured on CBS show “Mission Unstoppable,” a show that aims to inspire young women to pursue STEM careers. At the end of the day, inspiring others is the goal for her.
“If the work that I do can inspire people to participate in these conservation efforts, that’s a win,” said Lear.
Lear views it as a snowball effect, “If you get one person, then they will tell their friends.”
To explore more of Kristen’s work, you can check out her social media pages or her current organizations website, listed below.
Dr. Kristen Lear:
Bat Conservation International
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest