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Co-Director of the Biomimicry Center
Professor of Practice, School of Life Science
Partner, Biomimicry 3.8
Job scope: I oversee the center’s educational initiatives, including the graduate degree and certificate programs in biomimicry. I also work with co-director Sara El-Sayed to provide strategic direction and ideation for the center’s research and education initiatives. Wearing two hats, I also coordinate the center’s partnership with Biomimicry 3.8 (B3.8). The goal of this partnership is to develop solutions for some of humanity’s most pressing problems by leveraging the global reach of B3.8 with the world-class faculty and expertise of ASU. The Life’s Principles that best describe my role at the center are: Use Multifunctional Design, Fit Form to Function and Evolve to Survive.
History: Since 1998, I have been working in the field of biomimicry alongside my business partner, Janine Benyus. I hold a B.S. in marine biology and fine art with a minor in chemistry from New College in Sarasota, Florida (1993), an M.S. in resource conservation (1995) and a Ph.D. in organismic biology and ecology from the University of Montana, Missoula (2002).
Memorable discovery: I vividly remember the first time I felt truly in awe of nature. I was 16 and living as an exchange student in the Philippines. I was preparing to take my first night dive on a coral reef as part of my certification in diving. As I entered the shallow waters en route to the reef, I suddenly found myself swimming through a community of bioluminescent bacteria. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t want to leave.
Prefer land, sea, or air: I would gladly turn in my land legs for gills and spend all of my time swimming in tropical waters (I am not cold-blooded!). I find these waters—with their diversity of life learning to thrive in community and incredibly dynamic three-dimensional spaces—to possess a compelling gracefulness. For me, they model the essence of life creating conditions conducive to life more than any other ecosystem.
Favorite quote: I come across many quotes, but inevitably find myself falling back on this one by Albert Einstein: “The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created it.”
Thankful for: I am incredibly thankful that we are surrounded by life-creating conditions conducive to life. We are such a young, fragile species, one whose reputation among all the other species is incredibly tarnished. It’s easy to lose hope for humanity. Yet, I can still get up each day, knowing that if we change the story we believe about ourselves, about each other, about nature and this planet, then everything can change, and only for the better. Stories are resilient, mutable, and dynamic. They can evolve. The work that I am doing is ultimately about changing our story as humans, and I’m incredibly grateful to have this opportunity.
Life-changing experience: In 2012, I was diagnosed with Stage 2b/3a breast cancer. The journey from diagnosis to thriving has been incredibly transformative and full of love, healing, and biological medicine. I eschewed industrial medicine and “walked the talk,” demonstrating that nature has important lessons for healing, not only our own bodies but also the planet.
Job Scope: I’m working with co-director Dr. Dayna Baumeister on the new strategic plan for the biomimicry center. The plan includes strengthening our relationships with our affiliate faculty and collaborating on biomimetic projects in the focal areas of desert environments and circular economy. The life principle that best describes my work is being locally attuned and responsive.
History: Since 2011 I have co-founded three social enterprises in Egypt. Nawaya works to transition small-scale farmer communities into sustainable ones through research. Dayma does outdoor environmental education, learning about Biomimicry and local culture. Clayola creates household low-tech irrigations solutions. I have also been a board member of Slow Food international since 2012. I received my MSc from ASU in Biomimicry (2016) and my undergraduate degree from the American University in Cairo with a dual degree in Biology and Anthropology (2002). I’m currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Sustainability at ASU.
Favorite spot: Nothing makes me happier than being in the Red Sea, in Egypt. Especially after having learned how to free dive. Being down in the sea watching the incredible life around the coral reefs is always mesmerizing. Breathing deeply, then holding my breath and plunging down, trying to be as streamline and conserving of my energy and then getting as close as I can to eels, turtles, sea slugs, parrot fish and many other wonderful organisms fills me with such joy.
Go-to sense in the outdoors: I absolutely adore smelling. It’s my first pull to choosing a partner :). The second I arrive in the holy mountains of Sinai, i’m filled with a sense of peace and strength. There is always a strong scent of wild herbs that even attaches to clothes. Now that I’ve moved to Arizona, I’m exploring the new scents here, such as the sweet aroma of rubbing a creosote, which to me smells like a mix of camphor and citrus. As a food lover, it is always through smell that I first get attracted to food.
Comfort foods: so many, not sure where to start. However, the biggest comfort food has to do with who makes it, I love cooking and being in the kitchen with friends and family making meals together. For my wedding I was lucky enough to have a wonderful group of friends and family who literally camped at my house for three days, to produce amazing food made with so much love. But if I have to choose… a home-made lasagna.
Favorite book: At the age of 18 I read Ishamel, by Daniel Quinn. Although i don’t remember all the details of the book, I remember the sense of connection to nature I felt after finishing it sitting watching the sunset on the red sea. The book’s narrator is a gorilla that is teaching us, humans, how to better connect to this earth and to stop being “takers.” “leavers” which are known as the “primitive people” see that the “man belongs to the world” rather than the “world belongs to man.”
Land, sea, or air: SEA, SEA, SEA. The best encounter was swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Yucatan.
Manager of the Biomimicry Center
Manager of Graduate Programs for the School of Complex Adaptive Systems
Job scope: I manage all of the graduate programs for the School of Complex Adaptive Systems, which includes Biomimicry. I work with students from admissions to graduation. The Life Principle that best describes my role at the Center is Building from the Bottom Up.
History: I graduated from ASU in May 2014 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in business and global health. I also studied the culture, health and the environment of New Zealand and Fiji as a study-abroad student. My professional background is in business management, event coordination and radio promotions. I also volunteer for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
Favorite spot: I love being near a lake surrounded by forest. I grew up in the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and so many of my favorite childhood memories were playing among the trees. I chose climbing trees or building forts over sitting at home in front of the television. These days I camp and explore the woods in northern Arizona and prefer to hike rather than climb trees and risk a broken bone.
Memorable discovery: During a recent Biomimicry Immersion Workshop in South Africa, I learned a lot of amazing things about dung beetles. My encounter with this little creature was especially memorable because Dayna and the rest of my group forced me to hold one, despite my strenuous objections. Despite my new-found admiration for dung beetles, I still do not enjoy touching them (or dung for that matter).
Comfort Food: Cheese. I looooooove cheese. Living in Wisconsin turned me into a cheese head.
Favorite quote: “There are always roses for those who wish to see them.” Henri Matisse
Thankful for: Life, the people in my life, my dogs, and good wine.
Words to live by: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” My mother gave me this advice when I was very young and it has had a huge impact on my dealings with people all my life.