Don’t Miss This Year’s Science Summit

The Science Summit, formerly the Science Symposium, at the Esri User Conference (Esri UC) brings together Esri UC attendees who are interested in learning about science, how science informs the pressing issues of the day—such as the climate, conservation, and sustainability—and how science intersects with the evolution of geospatial technology. It is one of several summits occurring during the week at the Esri UC that aim to deepen attendees’ understanding of specific topics and sectors.

Photos of four people under a heading that reads, UC Main Stage, Esri User Conference 2020.
Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant (top left) cohosted UC Central Live with Nick Frunzi (top right) in 2020.

This year’s Science Summit will celebrate a truly remarkable scientist, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, by featuring her as the keynote speaker. If you have never attended this event before, I truly hope that you will be able to this year to hear about Wynn-Grant’s inspiring journey as a GIS-wielding wildlife ecologist. She currently has her dream job as the cohost of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild on NBC. Wynn-Grant is, in fact, the first Black woman to host a nature show on broadcast television.

Those who have attended Esri UC in the past might remember Wynn-Grant as the cohost, along with Esri chief customer officer Nick Frunzi, of UC Central Live during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. Some of these segments include intimate conversations between me and Wynn-Grant about global environmental challenges on land and sea, the meaning of “inclusive conservation,” and the rigors of scientific fieldwork—including her experience as the first research fellow of The Nature Conservancy’s Point Conception Institute, in association with the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve. UC Central Live, along with her science communication work as a National Geographic Explorer, showcased Wynn-Grant’s stage presence and her talent for conducting interviews and facilitating discussions on camera. It was inevitable that someday she’d host her own TV show.

Wynn-Grant’s path in this regard is quite inspiring. Growing up in San Francisco, California, Wynn-Grant’s only exposure to the wilderness was through nature documentaries. As a child, she wanted to someday host a nature show of her own, but she had no clear road map for how to achieve that. Wynn-Grant didn’t really have her first experience in the great outdoors until she was in her early twenties. Her journey toward eventually becoming the cohost of the reboot of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which was first broadcast on NBC in 1963, is a study in both perseverance and pivoting.

Wynn-Grant studied environmental science in college by first obtaining a bachelor of science in environmental studies from Emory University and then getting a master of science in environmental studies from Yale University. She then obtained her PhD in ecology and evolution from Columbia University. In an interview with writer and editor Sarah Khan for Condé Nast Traveler earlier this year, Wynn-Grant said she realized in college that “TV show or no TV show, I can have a career helping to design the science that saves endangered species from extinction and takes me around the world and offers me adventures—and I can be a smarty-pants scientist.”

Her research as a large-carnivore ecologist—a scientist who studies meat-eating animals—has taken her all over the world, often as one of the first African American women to ever do these kinds of studies. And she and her colleagues conduct them with excellence and rigor in scientific practice. In the GIS community, Wynn-Grant has gained notoriety for using GIS to study black bear habitats in the western Great Basin of the United States and, with the aid of GPS collars, monitor the bears’ movements and behaviors around human areas. She does this all with an eye toward reducing conflict between humans and bears.

Wynn-Grant chronicles her experiences up to this point in her amazing career in her recently released memoir, Wild Life: Finding My Purpose in an Untamed World. Incredibly, it was when she was writing the book—in which she describes, in the very first chapter, her childhood dream of hosting Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom—that she was asked by NBC to be one of the hosts of the modern adaptation of the series. Wynn-Grant has said in many interviews that she hopes readers will take away from the book the unique and beautiful intersections between nature and humanity and how humans’ protection of wild spaces is intimately tied to who we are and what we hope to become.

At the Science Summit, Wynn-Grant will take the audience on a remarkable journey through all of the above and more during her keynote presentation.

Interestingly, I am coming out with a memoir of my own this year as well. Mapping the Deep: Innovation, Exploration, and the Dive of a Lifetime is about my record-setting dive to the deepest point on Earth and the critical importance of mapping all aspects of the ocean, at all depths.

Both Wynn-Grant and I will be signing copies of our books during the Science Summit’s networking social. Secure your spot at this special gathering by adding the event—taking place Tuesday, July 16, 4:00 p.m.–6:30 p.m., in Ballroom 20D at the San Diego Convention Center—to your Esri UC calendar after registering for the conference.

Please don’t miss out on this unique opportunity. I hope to see you there!

About the author

Dawn Wright is Chief Scientist of Esri. She works to strengthen the scientific foundation for the company’s products and services. Notably, Dawn led the team that created the Ecological Marine Units (EMUs), a 3D digital ocean that creates better understanding of marine environments and how to plan for more sustainable activities there in the wake of climate change. Dawn joined Esri in 2011, and has written and contributed to some of the most definitive literature on marine geographic information system (GIS) technology. An elected member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, as well as the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, she earned her doctorate in Physical Geography and Marine Geology from UC Santa Barbara. In 2022, Dawn became the first Black person to visit the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest and most unexplored place on planet Earth.