The Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center has selected a passionate conservation advocate to guide its Harris Leadership Council. Liz de Laperouse, a steady community supporter of the center, is the new volunteer chair.
“I never thought I would be asked to chair the council,” said de Laperouse, who has a degree in philosophy from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and has worked on chemical legislation.
Patty Parker, a Des Lee Professor of Zoological Studies at UMSL and Senior Scientist at the zoo, will lead alongside de Laperouse as the center’s new interim director of the center.
“Liz certainly keeps me on my toes,” said Parker, adding that de Laperouse’s passion is inspiring and that she looks forward to helping her raise awareness about the Harris Center locally. “I think her zeal might push us all to help make it happen.”
Local awareness is de Laperouse’s first goal as new chair along with increasing support for the UMSL students whose research and education is funded by the Harris Center.
“I hope that more high school students will consider a biology degree from UMSL,” she said. “Many students that enjoy science do not realize the wonderful careers they can have in environmental and ecology fields and the opportunities offered by the Harris Center.”
De Laperouse has long been a champion of the environment. Not only were her father and mother “outdoor people,” but they passed their love of nature on to their children.
“All my family believed strongly in taking care of the environment,” de Laperouse said. “Never leaving trash, always being careful not to cause damage, only catching the fish you could eat and being very careful when walking through the woods to not hurt plants.”
Born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and raised there until 7 years old, de Laperouse also has a worldly perspective on the state of wildlife elsewhere.
“I have followed the awful decline in that country,” she said. “That is a major reason for my interest in ecology and conservation.”
In joining the Harris Center, de Laperouse found like-minded and similarly passionate people, especially in Patrick Osborne, former executive director of the center.
“Patrick was raised in neighboring Zambia and got his first degree from University of Southern Rhodesia,” de Laperouse said. “Being able to support research that enabled me to possibly help that struggling country gave me a personal connection to the Harris Center.”
And while de Laperouse has lived in Zimbabwe, England, Spain and France, her family has longtime ties to St. Louis. She found her grandmother’s high school diploma dated 1913. De Laperouse’s mother married an Englishman, sparking her family’s international travel.
Having seen many parts of the world and the fallout of unsustainable practices, de Laperouse wants to effect meaningful change.
“To me the loss of habitat is heart breaking,” she said. “People wonder why I am such an avid supporter of not only the Harris Center but UMSL. Engaging communities and educating the people about protecting habitat is important. Harris Center supported students and faculty are frontline ambassadors doing this throughout the world.”
Click here to read more about the UMSL alumni supported by the Harris Center who have become prominent conservation leaders worldwide.