Celebrating Women in STEM: Hilary Haley

Happy Earth Week, UMKC! This week, we’re bringing attention to one of the smallest organisms to face casualties of climate change: the humble bee.

There are around 25,000 species of bee worldwide, and over 450 species native to Missouri. Missouri bees are vital for our survival, contributing to the pollination of close to 75% of our food crops. One Kansas City Native who understands the importance of these little workers is Ecologist and Environmental Scientist Hilary Haley.

Haley was born on October 21, 1982. She was a very creative child, and wanted to be an architect when she grew up. She would even make doll houses out of cereal boxes, Q-Tips and scraps of fabric. She loved math and science. But in fourth grade, Haley’s class learned about something that really peaked her interest: the Amazon rainforest. Spanning across several South American countries, including Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru, the Amazon is home to about 10% of the known species on Earth.

Haley was so moved by the tragedy of deforestation in the area, she donated all the money she had to the cause— $20 worth of allowance. She never forgot the feeling of wanting to help save the environment.

Haley started her college career as an architecture major at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, but the competitive nature of the field was not for her. She moved across the street to the Biology department, where she could pursue her desire to help the planet and work outside in nature. Her professor, Dr. Ioana Popescu, hired her in the campus greenhouse, and even took her to Romania to study plant diversity. Haley graduated in 2005 with a dual degree in Biology and Environmental Science.

After graduation, she accepted an internship at the McHenry County Conservation District near Chicago, studying tallgrass prairie restoration.

After her internship, Haley took a position at The Nature Conservancy— a global, non-profit organization focused on conservation and sustainability. She was posted at the Dunn Ranch Prairie in northern Missouri, eventually becoming Conservation Coordinator. She completed her Master of Science degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Iowa State University in 2018, funded by a grant from the American Academy of University Women. Her Master’s research focused on the native bee communities in tallgrass prairies. Her work showed that restored prairies could provide the resources necessary to support a diverse and healthy bee community. This vital discovery could benefit the agricultural economy, and shows hope for restoring the bee population’s natural habitat.

Today, Haley is going into business for herself, starting a native seed company. Her best advice to save the planet is to get outside and enjoy nature.

She told U-News, “We owe it to ourselves and future generations to foster a culture that values nature for the benefits it brings us and the life it sustains. It’s true that every little thing you can do matters – recycle, drive less, reduce waste, turn off the lights when you leave a room, etc. – but it can be hard to comprehend the impact these actions have on an individual basis. The best thing you can do is get outside and enjoy your natural surroundings… The more tied to a natural habitat you are—whether it’s a local park, a state forest, a prairie, the lake or any favorite place— the more dedicated you will be to preserving that place and keeping it healthy.”

If you want to get involved in Earth Week activities on campus, check out the UMKC Department of Geosciences’ Facebook (UMKCGeosci) or Twitter (UMKC_Geosci).

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Lauren Higgins (lahn7d@mail.umkc.edu) for more information.

mew9bc@mail.umkc.edu

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