EOI program welcomes National Geographic Fellow and Conservify founder, Shah Selbe

December 13, 2018

On December 7, 2019, the Nelson Institute Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) professional master's program welcomed National Geographic Fellow and Conservify founder, Shah Selbe to campus for a special presentation titled, Conservation Technology: Open Source at Conservify and National Geographic Society.

 An engineer by training, Selbe spent a decade building spacecraft with Boeing before utilizing his skillset to develop open source, conservation technologies through his nonprofit, Conservify. In collaboration with principal engineer, Jacob Lewallen, and funders such as National Geographic, Selbe launched Conservify in an effort to lower the barriers to entry for effective conservation. They do this by providing open source apps and connected conservation devices to organizations around the world. Conservify projects include the development of low cost conservation drones for coastal monitoring, undersea acoustic monitoring, animal tracking technology and Fieldkit, which is a standardized, open-source software and hardware platform that allows researchers to more easily collect data and create engaging stories about their research. 

For students in the EOI program, who are learning to design and manage the use of observation technologies to advance policy, program direction, and executive decisions, meeting with Selbe provided an applicable learning and networking opportunity.

“His topic and knowledge really add to this interdisciplinary program,” said EOI Program Coordinator, Sarah Graves. “It’s wonderful to have EOI students learn directly from an innovative leader in conservation. He has a broad view of sensing technologies, he is a drone expert, he started his own company and he does much of this outside of a traditional research lab or academic institution, which is a unique perspective for our students to see. We do want to show students a variety of career options, and provide them with networking opportunities and connections to people like Shah. It’s that networking and exposure to unique perspectives that really sets the EOI program apart.”

In fact, students in the EOI program were given a number of opportunities to learn from and connect with Selbe. This included one-on-one sessions during the morning, an exclusive EOI program lecture in the afternoon, and an informal discussion of careers and professional challenges following the lecture.

“The EOI program is a cool program and I am a big believer in interdisciplinary work,” said Selbe. “We’re not going to solve our problems with the same type of thinking that caused them. We need people with a range of skillset in the room from engineers and biologists to graphic designers and marketing professionals. We need that interdisciplinary mindset.”

In fact, Selbe believes that having a thorough, interdisciplinary understanding of conservation challenges is among the most important keys to successfully developing technological solutions.

“Know a space very well, volunteer for the cause, know what the true problem is and who is involved,” Selbe shared with students. “I worked for years at that before I started Conservify. It was those connections that I made and the knowledge that I gained that helped me to secure funding and create meaningful solutions.”

Selbe also shared some of the successes and challenges he has faced while working on Conservify projects and the interdisciplinary problem solving skills he used to address those challenges.  Such skills include a project checklist that outlines a step-by-step process for project completion, highlighting the importance of understanding gaps, resource flows and the need to think outside of the box. 

“Doing something new and different isn’t easy,” shared Selbe. “There will be pushback, but it’s okay to go against the grain and push some boundaries. Really, it’s about sticking with it and believing in the end goal and mission.”