An interview with IHE alumnus Kyle Hawks
To start, tell us a bit about yourself, your passions, and your current pursuits.
I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. I grew up with a deep love of animals and nature, which later translated to a desire to live ethically and a passion for humane education.
For the past two years, my family and I have lived on an acreage that we’ve lovingly named Bluebird Acres. We have big plans for the land out here that include creating an inclusive place for community building, a thriving outdoor classroom, and a space that provides respite for animals in need.
In my spare time, I’m an avid reader, usually in the middle of three books at any given time! I enjoy being outdoors and spending time with my family and my companion animals: Arthur, our high-energy comedian (Lab); Everest, our gentle giant (Great Pyrenees); and the feline trio, Evie (Siamese), Pete (Big Orange Cat), and Ooly (fluffy black cat), who was sweetly named by our 4-year-old daughter, Aurora.
I’m excited for the future that being a part of IHE has inspired. I have lofty goals for bringing good into the world and leaving a lasting positive impact.
What drew you to the field of humane education?
My wife and I began living a fully vegan lifestyle in 2015. She’d introduced me to vegetarianism years before, but as animal lovers, we were guided to take a deeper look at our impact on the world. The first step to this was changing our eating habits. The evidence of better health and living more consciously by going vegan was overwhelming. Along the path, we attended an event hosted by the extraordinary Jane Goodall. She shared a story that inspired me to find ways to share the idea of ethical veganism. I wasn’t sure how to do this, but I knew it was important.
Not long after, I found my answer when my daughter, Aurora, was born. My wife and I knew we wanted to raise Aurora with a love of and respect for animals. We started reading Eric C. Lindstrom’s book The Smart Parent’s Guide to Raising Vegan Kids. The mention of humane education caught my attention. After immediately putting the book down to research what the master’s program was all about, a spark was lit within. I immediately knew that IHE was what I had been searching for. During my time in the program, this became more and more evident. This is my purpose, and I’m so grateful to have found it.
My key focus is the long-term evolution of Bluebird Acres. As it did for many, the pandemic brought about great reflection and introspection for my wife and me. Challenging our current path and focusing on what we felt was important, we chose to trade long-term careers and city living for acreage life in the country. Equipped with immense learning and personal growth through the Humane Education program, and a desire to make a positive imprint, the larger goal was to find a space that would allow for an animal sanctuary. With gratitude for everything our careers afforded, we had the ability to purchase a beautiful piece of land in the hills of Western Iowa that included 8 acres and a uniquely wonderful home.
Through my practicum [practicum is one of the final courses students take in the humane education master’s program], with support and encouragement from my mentor and advisor, Mary Pat, we were able to further reflect on ways to utilize this amazing space to make an even greater impact. The animals continue to be central, however, a sense of purpose to create community and a place for outdoor education and beyond has become key as Bluebird Acres begins to take shape.
How do you stay energized and motivated in this work?
I use the practice of meditation when I’m needing clarity about the path we’re on. At times, it can feel overwhelming when I think about the various hurdles we’ll have to face as we develop Bluebird Acres, but meditation allows me to stay focused on what’s most important in the moment and gives me the opportunity to regularly check in on how I’m feeling about the process.
What is something that has inspired you recently?
I love reading essays written by Margaret Renk in the New York Times. She’s often focusing on the beauty of nature and how the choices we make impact the health and vitality of our natural world. She recently wrote an article titled Why Tiny Ponds and Singing Frogs Matter So Much, in which she discusses the importance of micro wetlands and the lives they help sustain. Upon reading this article, I came to realize that our acreage contains what is defined as a vernal pond and that many of the toads and frogs we see hopping around Bluebird Acres in the spring and summer months are likely being supported by this small natural habitat. It inspired me to once again take a deeper look at this special place we now call home and to ensure that we research ways to be responsible land stewards and take the time to truly understand how our plans could support the wildlife that relied on this land long before we came along.
Tell us about an issue you have been thinking about lately and any recommended resources for others who want to learn more.
I’ve always been deeply disturbed when I think about the pain and suffering that animals are forced to endure when they’re being used for scientific research. It often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Recently, I’ve been following the work IHE alumna Madeline Krasno has been doing with Justify. Seeing the community that Justify is starting to build among current and former lab workers leaves me feeling more inspired about the positive change that humane education can provide for such a complex issue.
Feel inspired? You can read more stories of humane educators in action here.