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Humans of the U: Gabe Brown

“I’ve always loved the outdoors. I grew up here in Utah going on backpacking trips in places like the High Uintas. So, I knew I wanted to do something in conservation and fortunately, I found myself working in Austin Green’s lab, who uses trail cameras to understand local ecosystems.

I really like working in Austin’s lab not only because he’s a  really supportive mentor (and fellow nerd), but also because we work with the Sageland Collaborative, a Utah based nonprofit I really admire.  I find their commitment to community engagement, collaboration with policymakers, and applied science to be very inspiring. I think those are three things that are really important in conservation; scientific research, because you need to have the understanding of what’s going on to manage effectively; collaboration, because you need to work with people who have the power to make changes; and then—the most important thing for me—is engaging the public in conservation of their local ecosystem. I am really passionate about people’s connection to land, and how our experiences shape our perception of nature and what things are worth conserving.

It’s funny—the fact that my research lab uses cameras is completely incidental to my other passion, filmmaking. I’ve also always loved film, but I also knew early on that I didn’t want to work in Hollywood,  or live in LA. I love the creativity possible in film, but I have always loved science more. I went into school not thinking I would ever do a film degree, but then I found out about the U’s documentary minor program. Through the program I’ve been able to refine my skills as a filmmaker and meet some incredibly talented friends along the way.

I’m really interested in human ecology and conservation, and how people are connected to the land that sustains them. Right now, I’m doing a student fellowship with a local nonprofit called Leicester Productions to make a short film about Great Salt Lake. The group I’m focusing on is called the Youth Coalition for the Great Salt Lake. Many of the members of the coalition are queer or come from other underrepresented groups, and I think it’s really important to amplify those kinds of voices in environmental spaces.

It is easy for people to get paralyzed by ecological disasters happening all over the world. And that’s part of why I wanted to do a film on Great Salt Lake. This is happening here. You probably can’t fix what’s happening in the Amazon, but people here in the valley can be engaged in saving our lake. I have become a lot more optimistic about the lake—we’re making good strides. But in this process, I came to the conclusion that even if She does die, I want to have been there as a witness for Her, and to have allowed Her to change me. That’s part of what I’m trying to capture in my film.  I am trying to give voice to those who have allowed themselves to be changed by Great Salt Lake.”

—Gabe Brown, major in biology, minor in documentary film studies, 2024