15 Minutes With Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant
Thursday, February 15, 2024
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February 2024
15 Minutes With Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant
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We sat down with our Head of Science Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant talks about becoming the first Black person to host a nature show on network TV and how to make science, finance, and media more inclusive. 

by Hunter Maats and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant

In this installment of "15 Minutes With", it’s our pleasure to introduce you to Ethic’s Head of Science, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant. In addition to serving on our nature investments team, Rae is a wildlife ecologist at UC Santa Barbara and the co-host of NBC’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. In this interview, Rae tracks her journey from watching nature shows as a kid in Oakland to becoming the first Black person to host a wildlife show on network TV. As we honor Black History Month, Rae’s story, experience, and insight serve as a powerful lens through which to understand the obstacles to, and opportunities offered by, making science, finance, and media more inclusive

Hunter Maats (Nature Content) spoke with Rae for a 15-minute dive into her personal journey into science communication and the value of involving more Black voices in the science, media, and financial sectors. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Hunter: So Rae, this is Black History Month, right? I think your story is very inspirational for what's possible, and it also provides a real perspective on what the obstacles are that are faced in making Black history as you have many, many, many times. So, question one: Can you talk to me about young Rae? What was her fondest wish, and how's that working out? 

Rae: Well, that's fun. So when I was a little kid, I grew up in urban spaces. I always lived in big cities with my family, and I honestly did not have access to nature. My family didn't travel to recreate nature. So no hiking, or camping, or fishing trips. But I was able to engage with it and fall in love with it through nature shows. I used to turn on the TV and I would see the British or Australian hosts take me to the Amazon rainforest or the Serengeti, and it captivated me. So even as a little kid, I was saying to my parents, “I want to be a nature show host when I grow up.” And what I learned later on was that it was nature shows that I loved, but also the science that was being presented in them. And once I realized that there was a possible career for me there, I really latched onto science.

I realized science (wildlife, ecology, and conservation science, in particular) were my jam. And I went on to do a bachelor's degree, a couple of master's degrees, a PhD, postdocs, faculty positions and whatnot. Even though that science really spoke to me, the whole time I knew that I wanted to communicate it, just like those nature show hosts did back when I was a kid. It was literally a year ago that I got a call that Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was going to be revamped and brought back to NBC, and they wanted an actual experienced scientist to help co-host that show. It ended up being me, and it's been a dream. It's a very full circle moment and I hope to do it for many more years.

Hunter: That's amazing. Well, you're very good at it. But that sounds like a fairytale. Tell us about the actual path to get there. What's the grind behind the fairytale? 

Rae: Yeah, I could describe it very linearly: “I wanted it, I worked hard, I got it.” But it wasn't like that. And what I have learned along the way is that although my scientific career has been very merit-based – you get the grades, you graduate to the next level up and up and up – but media is certainly not merit-based. It's extremely subjective. And a lot of the people who have control and power, these are people who also aren't very innovative. So I faced a lot of rejection. I faced a lot of painful moments when I began speaking out about wanting to do science communication and wanting to be in the media. I mean, one story I have is that I actually went to a network executive once to get advice about how – having attained all these degrees and worked around the world on wild animals – I might become a nature host on TV.

And this man, who was a white man, said to me, “You're never going to host a nature show, Rae. It's cute that you want that, but you're not a white guy with a beard. It won't happen.” I can't say that I didn't believe him in that moment. I had zero examples of anyone who looked like me hosting these nature shows. And so, while I knew that it would be a good idea … it would be a really good innovation … I didn't have control over that. And so, an interesting thing happened. Knowing that I was really ahead of the game, I decided to just do my own science communication as best I could. And that work took me to give a presentation in Omaha, Nebraska in 2022.

After I gave that presentation, I learned that someone in the audience heard my presentation, thought I was great, and heard me say that I was interested in hosting. They brought that to Mutual of Omaha as they were discussing reviving the show. I don't know what happened next, but I do know that that's how my name got in the room. And the result is that I am the newest co-host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. And in order to kind of hit on Black History Month, I'm also making Black history in that way. Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom is making Black history. I'm the first Black person to host a wildlife show on network TV. 

Hunter: Well, that is amazing, right? It’s one of many firsts you’ve accomplished, and I'm sure you will make a lot more Black history. So, for our final question, as we're thinking about Black History Month, what does your experience tell us about what we could be doing better in terms of building a more inclusive field in both nature and finance?

Rae: Yeah, there's a lot. And, in general, I'm hoping that the difficulties I went through do not have to be repeated for other people who have these dreams or similar dreams. There are a lot of barriers that Black people in particular face to success in general. Racism, whether it's overt or covert, exists and fuses into every kind of interaction that we might have. So whether they're visible or invisible barriers, we actually face so much. But in particular, one thing that we can all do as a society is really embrace the fact that racial and ethnic and all kinds of diversity and a diversity of identities makes everything stronger, better, faster, more functional. And then add to that inclusion equity, justice, work, right? As we work together to create harmony and dismantle racial hierarchies, it actually makes every goal more achievable. So I find myself in the environmental space, and I know that we have a lot of problems to fix with climate, biodiversity, preserving nature, right? The inclusion and the empowerment of people from all different racial backgrounds, in particular Black folks in America, can help us get to those goals so much faster, quicker, and with more just outcomes. 

Hunter: Well, I couldn't agree more. And I think that's the thing. From an innovation perspective, we know that diversity of any kind is the raw material for innovation. So if we're going to need to innovate our way out of these environmental challenges, we can't do that if everybody in the room looks the same, thinks the same, and so on and so forth. 

Rae: Absolutely.

Hunter: So, as promised, Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, inspirational, brilliant, motivational, on and on and on, and obviously 15 minutes is just scratching the surface with you.

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Sources and footnotes

Ethic Inc. is a Registered Investment Adviser located in New York, NY. Registration of an investment adviser does not imply any level of skill or training. Information pertaining to Ethic Inc’s registration or to obtain a copy of Ethic Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing Ethic Inc.’s business operations, services and fees is available on the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Information website – www.adviserinfo.sec.gov or from Ethic Inc. upon written request at support@ethicinvesting.com. Information provided herein is for informational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Any subsequent, direct communication by Ethic Inc. with a prospective client shall be conducted by a representative of Ethic Inc. that is either registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration in the state where a prospective client resides. Information contained herein may be carefully compiled from third-party sources that Ethic Inc. believes to be reliable, but Ethic Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy of any third-party information.

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Hunter Maats is a storyteller and innovator. For the last five years, Hunter has had the privilege of working with conservationists across continents. As part of the Ethic Nature team, he’s honored to help act as translator between stakeholders so we can restore nature with the speed and scale we need.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant is a wildlife ecologist and conservation scientist focused on how human activity impacts the behavior and ecology of large carnivores. She is currently a Research Faculty member at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. She is a National Geographic Explorer, and maintains a Visiting Scientist position at the American Museum of Natural History. In addition to her academic research, Rae is the co-host of NBC’s newest series Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild, is the creator and host of award-winning podcast Going Wild with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant produced by PBS Nature, and is author of the upcoming memoir Wild Life published by Zando and Get Lifted Film Company.

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