My five years at Ashbrook between 3rd and 8th grade expanded my curiosity and self-discipline. I’m grateful that my parents encouraged me to focus on whatever topic I found most interesting, and my great teachers at Ashbrook made it fun to learn about a wide variety of subjects. Here, learning did not end with class, and I had many memorable conversations with friends and teachers outside of class about topics ranging from biodiversity conservation to Nietzsche. The tight-knit academic community at Ashbrook made it clear to me from an early age that school and work in general can be a source of passion rather than a chore.
This curiosity and work ethic instilled by rigorous coursework prepared me for a career that has allowed me to follow some of my earliest interests. It was at Ashbrook that I developed an early interest in historical nonfiction and an appreciation of science. During my undergraduate education at the University of Oregon’s Clark Honors College, I studied historical science and completed an undergraduate thesis project about the stone monuments of Easter Island, which attracted international media attention. I received a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation during my senior year, which I used at Pennsylvania State University to start research on Madagascar regarding the causes and consequences of past large animal extinctions. I organized three field expeditions to SW Madagascar, presented findings at numerous universities and conferences internationally, published >10 peer-reviewed articles, and recently received my PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara. I am starting postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, where I will use knowledge of the past to benefit modern biodiversity conservation in threatened ecosystems such as those on Madagascar.
Securing research funding, making fun discoveries, and generally being able to follow a childhood interest around the world requires luck. However, as one of my PhD advisors often said, luck is not independent of action, and you need to set yourself up to be lucky. I believe that early experiences at Ashbrook provide exactly this setup by sparking interests and fostering the discipline needed to effectively pursue those interests.
~Sean Hixon, 2007 graduate of Ashbrook