M. Sanjayan (Ph.D. biology, '97), host of the new groundbreaking PBS nature series EARTH A New Wild, has been selected as the recipient of the 2015 UC Santa Cruz Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed on a graduate of the campus.
The award will be presented at Sanjayan's keynote address on April 24 during Alumni Weekend.
Previous recipients include NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists Dana Priest and Martha Mendoza, California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, and Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard.
Sanjayan's high-profile career keeps him traveling across the globe almost constantly and places him squarely in the public eye, whether he's reporting on Bangladeshi tigers, global warming, strange weather, extinctions, rising sea levels, or mega-fires.
Along the way, Sanjayan, who was born in Sri Lanka, was hailed as an advocate for diversity—in all its forms—in a Time magazine article entitled "Changing the White Face of the Green Movement."
"I can't think of anyone more fitting to receive this award at this moment," UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal said in a message to Sanjayan, referring to his life as a working scientist, public intellectual, and environmental advocate.
Sanjayan, executive vice president and senior scientist for Conservation International, has just returned from a global journey for his new five-part series, which debuted February 4 and features unusual and moving "partnerships" between human beings and ecosystems.
"I am deeply touched by this honor," said Sanjayan, whose Alumni Weekend keynote, entitled, "A New Wild: Saving Nature in a Human-Dominated World," will take place on Friday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m. at Performing Arts M110 in the campus's Media Theater. "My time at (UC Santa Cruz) probably did more to prepare me for my future career than any time I have spent previously or since. All the key skills I have today I first practiced during my six years in graduate school."
His new program explores how humans are inextricably woven into every aspect of the planet's natural systems. With 45 shoots in 29 different countries, the show took Sanjayan from a preserve in India, land of the wild tiger, to the wilds of Montana, where he observed a specially trained group of cowboys who are helping ecosystems recover with their ranching practices.
"The area is being filled with birds, including some that are just on the edge of being put on the endangered species list," Sanjayan said in an interview with UC Santa Cruz Review magazine. "They have wolves, elk, pronghorn—a fairly intact ecosystem.
"There is no doubt that there is massive environmental destruction being wrought upon this planet," he continued. "But there are also amazing people doing amazing things."
Until recently, Sanjayan served as the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, where he spent 16 years specializing in development and conservation strategies, focusing on Africa, wildlife ecology, and media outreach.
UC Santa Cruz played a decisive role in his present career. Though he admits that he is "not one of those people who loves being on television," he comes across as confident and very much in the know—two traits he attributes in large part to his graduate school experience here.
"While I was at UC Santa Cruz I didn't think much about conservation," he said. "I mostly thought about taking on difficult questions."