From Madagascar To Miami: National Geographic Explorer Comes To FIU

Mayor trekked nearly 1000 miles across Africa during History Channel’s Expedition Africa produced by Mark Burnett. Photo credit: Brent Stirton

By: Victor Jorges / News Director


Mireya Mayor is the only daughter of Cuban immigrants, she discovered a species of lemurs, has traveled to the most remote places of the world like Madagascar, Rwanda, and the Congo, and has written a book, “Pink Boots and a Machete.”

Now, she’s the director of exploration and science communication initiative in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences and Education.

“My main goal is to develop an innovative program that’s going to help scientists more effectively communicate some very complex topics in ways general audiences can really connect to,’ said Mayor. 

This position is not the only time she’s had to do this type of work, for two decades she has broken down the most complex ideas into content for a massive audience.

“What I have always tried to do, and hopefully succeeded to, is make those stories exciting and relevant and timely, and for people to walk away feeling inspired and empowered and motivated to want to make the planet better,” said Mayor.

Prior to this position, she was the first-ever female National Geographic correspondent for almost 20 years.

“I’ve reported on habitat issues around the world. Wildlife on the brink of extinction, topics that a lot of people may not find relevant to them because it seems so far away or topics that could be presented as dull or boring,” said Mayor. 

Mayor believes that being in Florida, aside from being what she considers home, is the right place to be for this type of work.

“Florida, in particular, is at the frontlines of climate change,” said Mayor. “And there is a seeming disconnect between science and research and the general public.”

Mayor with leopards is in Namibia while filming a documentary for National Geographic. Photo credit: Martin Harvey

In order to cause change, Mayor believes that one must know what the problem is, making her job much more impactful to the communities she comes in contact with. 

“Science without communication is just a collection of data, right?” she asked.  “That information will just disappear into files, if you will. Scientists generally tend to talk to their peers at scientific conferences. I truly believe that that same scientific study was good communication is the power to turn that data into action and change.”

Interestingly, her job at National Geographic was nothing planned. She didn’t even apply to work there. 

She was in Madagascar conducting her dissertation work on lemurs, where there was a production team from National Geographic doing a story on a predator of lemurs.

“They approached me, to talk about some of the animals and then they got very interested in the research that I was doing and they came back and they filmed a one hour documentary on the focus of me and my work,” said Mayor.

Since then she has covered primates and many other animals for the company.

Prior to her lucky encounter with National Geographic, she encountered an odd tension in the classrooms of Stony Brook in New York, where she was pursuing her Ph.D. in anthropology.

She was an NFL cheerleader for a while, and she says that it was sometimes seen as a negative. 

“People probably did have some preconceived notions about what a former NFL cheerleader, what was I doing at a scientific graduate program?” said Mayor.

There was a certain level of femininity, that according to Mayor, wasn’t well-received by the members of her classes.

“I didn’t look like everybody else. And then I started feeling like maybe I needed to play down my femininity because of those judgments,” said Mayor. 

However, there was a change in that attitude when she realized she shouldn’t have to limit her femininity. That’s how she came up with the title for her book, “Pink Boots and a Machete.”

“I went the opposite route, and I started playing it up by wearing the pink boots to really call out the girliness. And then the machete part. Well, that seems rather obvious I walked around the jungles of South America, in the Amazon there was a machete in my belt because I always had to cut new trails to get through it,” she said.

Saying hello to FIU does not mean saying goodbye to National Geographic, according to Mayor.

“I will always be a National Geographic Explorer,” said Mayor. “If anything what I plan on doing is introducing National Geographic into FIU. Florida has the second largest population of National Geographic explorers. So I think that this would be an amazing place for you know, a lot of the stuff that we do and talk about as National Geographic to also happen.”

1 Comment on "From Madagascar To Miami: National Geographic Explorer Comes To FIU"

  1. Welcome Mireya! What an important program!

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