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Courtesy of Drew Magazine. Article originally appeared in the Winter 1999 edition, by Lynn Peck Rutan

Dena Pedynowski C'99 laughs at herself for sometimes "talking in sound bites." The habit stems from the globetrotter's love of pithy phrases and sayings. She coins some, others she picks up during her travels. Once home, she doesn't allow these verbal souvenirs to gather dust. Rather, Pedynowski draws on them constantly to shape her conversations, her writings, and her life.

Take, for example, hishuk ish ts'awalk, a maxim of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Native people that translates as "all is one." Pedynowski calls it a succinct statement of her growing knowledge about "the interconnectedness of all things" and considers it "probably the most important thing I took away" from a summer research trip in British Columbia in 1998.

In the course of her Canadian experiences, she says she came to understand more clearly how to live the idea behind the phrase, by "seeing through the eyes of a human, through the eyes of an eagle, through the eyes of a sea anemone. All is one." For nearly two months Pedynowski roamed Vancouver Island and the Canadian Pacific coastline, studying the ancient forests and waterways of the sensitive ecological area. She saw firsthand that the region's natural resources are endangered by the cross-purposes pursued by conservation interests, loggers, fisheries, and north-west coastal First Nation cultural groups.

The trip was a total immersion course in "the multifaceted dynamic of a problem" Pedynowski says. "I came to have a comprehensive understanding of systems ecology." She climbed mountainsides to inspect clear-cut timber operations that are leveling the continent's last remaining ancient "old growth" forests. She slogged through waist deep 60 degree waters to record how logging has damaged the stream bed of ancestral tribal salmon runs. Pedynowski came away empathizing with each of the region's conflicting interests: the politicians, who derive 45 percent of the provincial income from leasing government lands for logging, the timber companies that are doing their best to "meet consumer demand in the United States and the Western world", and the Huu-ay-aht First Nation people, whose elders told Pedynowski stories of lost times when salmon schools were "so dense you were able to walk across the water on the fishes' backs."

The ecological problems bred by conflicting interests exemplify what happens when society fails to abide by the "all is one" principle, according to Pedynowski. "People are on one side or another in a lot of wildlife issues," she says. "Trying to impose values of one mind-set on another doesn't work." Political decesions and policy changes, she asserts, must "bring together as many values as possible; we need to be seeing through as many eyes as possible."

Pedynowski went to Canada under the auspices of Boston University School of Field Studies. The plan was to advance her own education, but she was also inspired by another one of her "sound bite" axioms: "The importance of knowledge is not just gaining it, it is in using it." Putting that thought into action, Pedynowski wrote a 75 page report for her team that outlines a variety of low-technology, low cost ways the First Nation group can repair its fishing rivers. The tribe plans to use the report, along with photos Pedynowski took in the area, as the basis for grant applications to the provincial Ministry of Environment.

The benefity the First Nation group will reap from Pedynowski's summer are "a realistic example of everything I am working toward," she says. She has divided her college years between the classroom and practical field work because "learning occurs when you actually apply it."

Even as she was completing her college course requirements in just three years, earning a 3.98 G.P.A and a Phi Beta Kappa key in the process, Drew's first Rhodes scholar took time to explore the Amazon in a dug out canoe, bringing back photographs that are now bing considered for exhibition by the Smithsonian. In between semesters, she snow-shoed through the -10 degree wintery wilds of Montana, surveying wolf pack movements and learning about the Endangered Species Act. In Japan as a Rotary Club International student ambassador, she met with national leaders and lived in a Buddhist temple.

Since her coursework is finished, Pedynowski is spending the 1998-1999 academic year exploring the deserts and canyons of the American Southwest, the rainforests and back country of New Zealand, and the peaks and valleys of Nepal and the Himalayas.

"I've minored in real world travel," the biology major jokes. She appreciates Drew's "accommodations and flexibility" for her off-campus forays, and she says her adviser, Professor of Biology Leland Pollock, should be canonized for his patience and support. "He has been my surrogate parent and sorter-out of my various plans and problems." In return, Pedynowski thinks, "I keep him really amused."

There is, in all her travel adventures, "an underlying method to the madness," Pedynowski explains. "My passion in life is to understand all facets of the living world." Meteorology, ethno-botany, world religions, she lists as just a sampling of disparate subjects that have attracted her scrutiny. "You name it, I try to study it," she says.

Although her resume emphasizes a record of scientific pursuits, Pedynowski now finds herself "moving back toward a balance between art and science." She has just learned how to play the Indian wood flute, and she is working on her poetry and writing.

Pedynowski makes it clear she does not need an exotic locale to pursue her life's passion for learning. Back in New Jersey between her far-flung expeditions, she logs thousands of hours annually volunteering for a number of nature and wildlife support organizations.

As ab anesthesiologist and surgical assistant for the nationally renowned Raptor Trust, she has learned how to help save and return birds of prey to the wild and has applied the new knowledge to publish half a dozen research papers.

These, in turn, have made her a sought after speaker at national conferences. In November Pedynowski presented three papers to the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference on the subjects of wildlife rehabilitation, natural history, and conservation.

She planned to begin veterinary medicine studies at Tufts University next year, but, having won a Rhodes Scholarship, she is now detouring to Oxford for three years. While at Oxford she has her sighs on a D.Phil. that combines ornithology, epidemiology, and ecology. Ultimately, she wants to study both wild species and the diseases they suffer when their environments are disrupted in an effort "to heal both the land and the wildlife."

She believes it will be necessary to immerse herself in the disparate fields because "innovation, insight, and the power to make change are at the interface of different areas" of knowledge and expertise.

Now dedicated to wildlife research, Pedynowski has moved away from her early love for exotic birds. But she continues to gross about $60,000 a year from Once Upon a Wing, a company she started in high school as "an offspring of a hobby that got out of control." To finance her menagerie of cockatiels, she began breeding and wholesaling bird feed and cages to shops throughout New Jersey. In college, when her volunteer work with The Raptor Trust convinced her she would rather put "a hawk in the sky than another parrot in a cage," she gave up her pets and dropped the breeding end of the business.

She still works 15-20 hours a week supplying feed and cages to 40 or 50 pet stores from Washington to Connecticut. Her father, a small business owner himself, pitches in when she is traveling, but Pedynowski does the rest. She regularly hand loads 2,000-pound deliveries of seed into the garage for storage, assembles and distributes orders, and handles all the other responsibilities of a sole proprietor.

Although the business, in combination with all her other activities, occasionally means her life "borders on controlled chaos," she continues operations through college because it helps finance her global explorations. Once Upon a Wing also earned her Fairleigh-Dickenson's 1998 New JErsey Entrepreneur of the Year award. It is one of the many honors Pedynowski keeps accruing, even though at age 18 she packed away a slew of trophies, proclaiming, "The award is not the goal. It's the action leading to it that's important."

She continues to say awards are "part of the journey," and she has proven during her college years that they can underwrite the trip. When she won the prestigious, and highly lucrative, Barry Goldwater National Science Scholarship for her virology research proposal, the Drew Scholar already had ehr full tuition covered, so she arranged for the funds to help pay for her four most recent expeditions.

By the time her four college years are over, Pedynowski will have immersed herself in ecosystems in crisis on every continent except Africa, where political instability has forced her to postpone her travel plans. Can she name a personal Shangri-la to which she dreams of returning? She will not be pinned down. "Deciding some place is better means the other is worse," Pedynowski explains. "I think you lose a lot in doing that."

As her classmates cross Mead's back porch on graduation day, Pedynowski expects to be crossing the Himalayas, on yet another quest for knowledge. No, she won't mind missing the ceremony. After all, it's not the diploma that's important.

Courtesy of Drew Magazine. Article originally appeared in the Winter 1999 edition, by Lynn Peck Rutan