Following in the footsteps of conservation giants

Last summer, Liam’s longstanding interest in conservation led him to reach out to a hero of his, and ended up taking him on a research journey that would send him to Madagascar and the rainforest in search of lemurs.

It started in high school, when Liam visited the Indianapolis Zoo and met renowned primatologist Patricia Wright at a Zoo-sponsored event titled, “Meet a Hero.” Liam was in awe: Dr. Wright is the founder and executive director of Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments and of the Centre ValBio in Madagascar, a preeminent expert on lemurs, and the 2014 winner of the Indianapolis Prize, a prestigious conservation award.

When he asked how he could do what she’s doing – traveling the world, researching primates, and working to protect animals and the environment – she gave him her business card and told him to reach out after a couple years of university.

Flash forward to 2022, and Liam, now a senior at IU pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science – a joint degree program between the College of Arts and Sciences and the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs – had kept Wright’s business card. And he needed to secure a summer internship. “I decided at the last minute to contact her, and asked if I could get involved,” Liam said.

To his surprise, “She was excited to get an email from me,” Liam recalled, and further, was interested in getting him involved in her groundbreaking work studying lemurs in Madagascar. Wright quickly got him on board and suddenly Liam found himself needing to find funding, write a thesis, and learn how to become his own Principal Investigator (PI) in order to pursue his own research.

Funding support

First, Liam needed to find funding to support his research project, and he had a tip from classmates that helped him.

“So many peers told me about a great source of scholarship money,” he said. That source was the Walter Center for Career Achievement, which has a number of scholarships that go toward helping students finance their internships, as well as other career and upskilling opportunities.

Liam filled out an internship application, and while “it included ideas I had about what I would be doing in Madagascar, it evolved into something else,” he said.

He was awarded a $5,000 internship scholarship and was able to truly begin preparing.