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Student Spotlight: Giving Blueday Scholarship Recipient Siena McKim (BFA ‘19)

For San Diego native Siena McKim (BFA ‘19), the natural world inspires creative work, a mindful way of life, and the desire to educate others about the world around them.

“Studies have shown that spending time in nature boosts your immune system and combats stress-based diseases and mental health issues,” McKim asserts enthusiastically. “In Japan, there is a practice known as ‘Forest Bathing,’ where you just let the forest take you over. You smell the trees, you hear the leaves. I want people in my community to have that access, that experience.”

During her sophomore year at the Stamps School, McKim’s creative intentions crystalized. “In my Methods of Inquiry class, I asked myself ‘what do I want people to get out of my work?’ The answer was creating a connection to nature.”

McKim made a decision to start small, illuminating the often overlooked aspects of the forest: lichens, fungi, mosses, and insects. With this in mind, McKim successfully landed a spot in the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Residency in New Mexico from May-August 2018, after hearing about the opportunity from a plant group on campus called BUDS (Botany Undergrads Doing Stuff).

At the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Natural Ecological Research Network funded residency, McKim was one of two artists on the science-based initiative. And with a house filled with entomologists, she knew exactly what aspect of the New Mexico ecosystem she wanted to illuminate: bugs.

“From my housemates, I was learning all of these amazing things about insects. They are the most diverse sect of animals, serving so many ecological roles that benefit the ecosystem,” McKim says.

Through the residency, McKim learned how to collect, dissect, and extract pollen samples at the field station — and she discusses her research with palpable joy. The fact that earth is home to over 20,000 species of bees leaves the realm of mere trivia and becomes dazzling through McKim’s charismatic telling, an opportunity to dive deeper, to learn more.

“I want people to see their value and reconsider the knowledge they grew up with. As a child, you’re taught that dirt is dirty, that bugs carry disease. I want people to have positive interactions with insects.”

During the residency, McKim put her research to good use by creating a 30-page, all-ages illustrated book to show the roles that insects play within their ecosystem on the Sevilleta Refuge. The book accompanied two giant insect sculptures — a 7-ft parasitoid bee fly and an 5-ft longhorn bee — both semi-permanent installations at the refuge.

To create the sculptures, McKim welded skeletal frames. For the exterior, she sewed 3D polyfill-stuffed forms to slip around the metal frames. Over 150 hours of sewing and detailed embroidery went into the making of the anatomically correct insects.

Siena McKim is one of three recipients of the 2018 Giving Blueday Scholarship, resourced from gifts given during the 2017 Giving Blueday campaign. Now in her senior year at Stamps with a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, McKim is working as a Museum Technician at the University of Michigan Insect Division at the Research Museum Center. She is excited to continue educating the public about the natural world through her Integrative Project at Stamps.

“The Giving Blue Day Scholarship made tuition possible for me this year,” McKim says. “I was worried that I’d have to take out a big loan, but the scholarship was a really nice surprise.”

Reflecting further, she compares the many donors coming together to make the Giving Blue Day Scholarship possible to the interdependence of ecosystems. “We’re all connected,” she says. “Small actions can have huge impacts.”

Learn more about Siena McKim’s work and about supporting the incredible students at the StampsSchool of Art & Design.