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Army captain wants to share her love of nature with others through teaching

Rachel Hewitt on an immersion trip in Tofino, British Columbia

Rachel Hewitt on an immersion trip in Tofino, British Columbia.

December 03, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Rachel Hewitt has always loved adventure and the outdoors. She was the kid you had to drag back into the house after a long day playing outside. As she got older, that love led to a career in the Army. After joining ASU’s Army ROTC and earning her Bachelor of Science in conservation biology and ecological sustainability, Hewitt wanted to continue her education and learn more about nature. That’s when she found the Master of Science in biomimicry online program at the School of Complex Adaptive Systems in the College of Global Futures.

“Biomimicry looks at what we can learn from nature, everything from how a leaf is made and how photosynthesis works, to how we could use that to inform what we do as humans,” said Hewitt. “We have a saying called 'quieting our own human cleverness.' It’s about looking to nature for not just things to be in awe of, but what we can learn and how we can fit in this whole ecosystem without creating things that aren’t in natural systems. Everything is recycled. Everything is considered a useful product. It's being in harmony and more in tune with the Earth.” 

The biomimicry program stood out to her because it connected all the things she had a passion for into one discipline.

“After a few courses, I felt that I had found my people, people who had the same connection to nature that I did. There were people from so many different backgrounds and disciplines in the program. It’s the kind of diversity that you would see in a natural ecosystem.”

Hewitt, now a captain in the Arizona Army National Guard, wants to take what she’s learned in the program and implement it into her work in the military.  

“As a member of the military, I feel I am a protector of our homeland, and that includes protecting the land itself. I want to do an ecological assessment of training spaces in Arizona. Sometimes there’s the notion that the military only destroys or pollutes, but many members of the military care for the environment. What can the military do to make more positive impacts in the environments of these training spaces?”

When she completes her military service, Hewitt wants to get into teaching so she can share her love of the outdoors and nature with others. 

“One of the most fulfilling things I can do is get people interested in learning about nature. I want to give kids a connection to nature and show them they can experience it right in their backyards. I may not come up with the newest design for an airplane engine, but if I can get kids to light up and want to learn more about why certain spiders have different colors, that's the kind of stuff that I love.”

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I knew I needed an online program. I looked at several other schools, but everything seemed to have a linear discipline. ASU was the only one I found that had biomimicry, and that was the exact discipline that I wanted to get into. It combined biology, ecology and chemistry with how we tie into nature. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Doing online courses, I felt that everyone had a chance to give their input and offer their perspectives, which is something I don’t think you always get in a typical classroom setting. In a classroom, you usually have a handful of people that like to discuss, while others just want to listen. But in our online forums, everyone was writing to each other and participating. I enjoyed hearing from so many people from different backgrounds and cultures. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor of Practice Dayna Baumeister helped me with the communication aspect of biomimicry. She taught me that I’m not always going to be exactly right, but it’s important to share my perspective and learn from it. If I’m giving a public speech, I need to be confident. People will want to listen when they can tell there’s sincere passion and interest behind what I’m saying. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I'm a military officer and have a young son, yet I still found the time to get my degree. You can take it one class at a time, one semester at a time, and that's perfectly OK. Just keep on learning and know that goal ahead is reachable.

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