Trendy black and white striped pants and long blonde hair is hardly what someone pictures when imagining a world-renowned Ph.D. anthropologist and wildlife correspondent for National Geographic, but Mireya Mayor is not the average explorer.
As part of Stony Brook University’s First Year Reading Program, this year’s freshman class read Mayor’s book “Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer.”
For Commons Day, Mayor visited SBU to give a talk to the class of 2018 in the brand new Stony Brook Arena.
Mayor received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Stony Brook, and her talk on Wednesday showed how SBU influenced her passion for her career.
“I am honored to be back and share my experiences with you,” Mayor said.
Mayor told her inspirational story from her childhood to her expeditions and discoveries to her five kids.
“I had a real love for animals, but I did not know that this is what I would end up doing for the rest of my life,” Mayor said.
Mayor grew up in Miami, Florida as the only child of Cuban immigrants.
“My love of animals was born really early on,” Mayor said, but as she grew older Mayor found herself drawn to dance.
Mayor’s interest in dance landed her a job as a cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins foot
ball team, but everything changed when Mayor was forced to fulfill a science requirement for her English degree at the University of Miami.
After Mayor’s first choice was full, she reluctantly signed up for the only class that did not interfere with her schedule: anthropology.
“I picked it because it fit the schedule, and it truly changed the course of my entire life,” Mayor said.
This course reignited Mayor’s love of animals and sense of adventure.
“It really piqued my curiosity,” she said.
The anthropology class inspired Mayor to become an anthropologist and venture to countries such as Madagascar and Guyana.
“The extent of my traveling had been going to Disney World as a kid,” Mayor said. But eventually she was exploring different countries all over the world and living out of a dugout canoe for months on end.
Mayor said her new career path was unexpected, but “it is always good to sort of explore side roads.”
In exploring her own interest in anthropology, Mayor found her calling.
Mayor’s list of accomplishments is extensive. She discovered a new species of mouse lemur in Madagascar, and she was a part of the first long-term genetic study of the Perrier’s sifaka and the Silky sifaka.
In her book, Mayor recounts expeditions that were up to ten months long with no everyday conveniences, but Mayor said that as a young girl, “when I asked my mom if I could join the girl scouts she said ‘Absolutely not.’ She said ‘That’s far too dangerous.’”
For nearly ten years now, Mayor has been a featured wildlife correspondent for National Geographic appearing on programs such as “Ultimate Explorer,” “Explorer,” and “Out There.”
Mayor does not conform to the stereotypes of a scientist or explorer and embraces her image.
“In the media I am described as the female Indiana Jones, and then I show up to an event here wearing heels and ring-tailed lemur pants,” Mayor said.
“When an opportunity presents itself do not shy away from it,” Mayor told the audience.
Mayor encouraged students to broaden their thinking.
“It is really important to keep your eyes open and your mind open to the different opportunities that you will have here at Stony Brook and throughout your life,” she said.