Giving to Yale

Natural Histories: Ryan Laemel ’14

Ryan Laemel ’14

Ryan Laemel ’14 grew up in Orange, Connecticut, just a few miles from Yale. He often visited New Haven with his grandfather, who encouraged Ryan to think about Yale as a place to learn about the wider world. “When I was about ten, I sat with my grandfather in the Peabody Museum’s Great Hall of Dinosaurs,” Laemel says. “I remember him saying, ‘I hope that one day you get the chance to experience first-hand just how remarkable this place really is.’”

Years later, Ryan accepted an offer of admission to Yale, along with a scholarship from the Yale Club of New Haven. The award was presented during a ceremony at the Peabody.

For Ryan, it was an emotional day. “My grandfather didn’t live to see me enter Yale, but he inspired me to cherish every moment at this school,” he says.

I chose to attend Yale because:

There were three reasons. First was the grass. I doubt many people list grass as a reason to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but Yale does a great job integrating itself into both the city fabric and the natural world. Now that I live here, I really appreciate Yale’s balance between natural and urban environments.

Second (and more conventionally!), I chose Yale for its incredible resources and opportunities. Third, I chose Yale for its intelligent, diverse, and welcoming community. Yale historian George W. Pierson got it right when he wrote, “Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.” The Yale community is comprised of many types of individuals, all of whom bring with them a unique story, boundless enthusiasm, and a desire to help their classmates and the larger world.

My long-term goal is to study the relationships between our society, the environment, and climate change.

My major:

Coming into my junior year, I declared a major in Geology & Geophysics. But I spent my first two years at Yale exploring a number of subjects, finding light and truth in anything from architecture to nature writing. For a long time, I thought I would major in English.

Then, to fulfill a science requirement, I took G&G 100: Natural Disasters with Professor David Bercovici, then chair of the Geology & Geophysics department. In G&G 100, we explored the evolution of the solar system, plate tectonics, animal and human life, and many other topics. I fell in love with the earth sciences, especially the geology and geophysics side, and at the end of the term I changed my major.

This past summer I worked in Professor David Evans’ paleogeography lab, where I studied historical geography and how our earth looked millions and even billions of years ago. Geology & Geophysics has been extremely welcoming, helpful, and thought provoking, and I am extremely grateful for being part of such an incredible department. My long-term goal is to study the relationships between our society, the environment, and climate change.

My favorite course:

My favorite course so far is ENGL 121: Nature Writing with John Loge, an English professor and dean of Timothy Dwight College (Go Lions!). In nature writing, I learned to use the natural world as a medium to express my convictions and construct an engaging personal narrative. I think it is extremely important to be able to write clearly, concisely, and purposefully, and my classmates and I learned how to do this over the course of the semester.

My development as a nature writer has played an important role in shaping my science writing, too. In science writing, studies and data can be difficult to comprehend. Nature writing has taught me to keep my audience in mind and to craft my prose in an elegant and accessible way. One day, I hope to use the writing skills I acquired in ENGL 121 as a nature writer, as well as an environmental lawyer or politician. I would love to publish a compilation of nature writing narratives that capture our world’s changing climate.

Lab that I’ve enjoyed the most:

My favorite lab exercise was a field trip for G&G 100: Natural Disasters. Professor Bercovici drove us out to study the geology of both East Rock and West Rock, which bracket northern New Haven like giant bookends. I remember standing at the bases of each structure—large magmatic provinces that formed 200 million years ago in the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods—and feeling a new appreciation for the incredible processes of nature. On that same field trip, we visited several other areas in Connecticut, where we saw landscapes flattened by the glaciers of the last ice age.

My favorite place to study:

The Starr Reading Room in Sterling Memorial Library. During the day, natural light shines in through the windows, which stretch from the floor to the ceiling. I find the natural light invigorating; it energizes me.

My plans for study or work abroad:

Currently, I am developing my senior project under Professor Mark Brandon. He’s assembled a team that also includes another undergraduate student and a graduate student. Our goal is to determine whether the glacial valleys in Patagonia (in Chile, South America) were carved quickly in the colder conditions of the last two million years or more slowly, starting with the early glaciations of six million years ago when the climate was warmer. The project relies on a radiometric dating technique called (U-Th)/He thermochronology.

This work has important implications for understanding the feedback between climate change and glacial erosion, as well as how glaciers control the height and shape of mountains. Fortunately, the team has received substantial funding from several University sources, and we’re travelling to the southern tip of South America this winter to start our field work! Given the nature of this project and its implications in climate change, I think it will set me up well for graduate and professional experience in the field of climate change.

My preferred extracurricular activity:

My favorite extracurricular activity at Yale is competing in Varsity Cross Country and Track & Field. I love being part of a team. The day-by-day commitment and dedication needed for a three-season sport has shaped me into a self-motivated, goal-seeking, and mentally strong individual. Running has taught me the virtues of camaraderie and the spoils of hard work. It has taught me how to set goals and work toward them; how to appropriately deal with failure and success; how to take things in stride. And, to my surprise, it has been the glue that holds me together. When I am confronted with tough academic times or other problems, I can always count on being able to lace up my shoes and hit the roads—I see the streets of New Haven as my roads to redemption.          

After graduation, I plan to:

I try my best to be present. I think it is important to look to the past and future, but I like to focus on the here and the now. That said, I do have a plan. After I graduate, I would like to backpack one of the United States’ long trails to raise awareness about climate change and money for climate change research. Following my hike, I would like to find work in the energy industry, green companies, or climate change research. I hope to work for a while and then head back to school to pursue a master’s or law degree. My career goal is to be an environmental lawyer and/or politician. I would love to work for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or another government organization. I see teaching in my future, too. Time will tell.

Something I learned at Yale that I will always remember:

Help is always there if you ask for it.