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Reeder-Hunt Talks Orangutans

The College of Education and the Andrews Institute of Mathematics & Science Education invited Rebecca Reeder-Hunt ’73 to speak with students, faculty and community members about her experiences as an educator and citizen scientist. Reeder-Hunt earned her bachelor’s degree in education and taught and worked in the airline industry. She began volunteering with Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) with her husband Bill in 2008, but said she always had a passion for animals and became fascinated with orangutans after seeing the National Geographic cover story OFI Director Biruté Mary Galdikas wrote in 1975.

Rebecca Reeder-Hunt Shares Her Experiences

“I couldn’t just hop on the computer then to learn more so I forgot about it for a while,” Reeder-Hunt said. Instead she made posters about orangutans and displayed them in her English classroom in Manhattan Beach, California, working them into her lesson plans.

She said her skills as a teacher translated well when her school couldn’t afford to keep her on full-time. She taught part-time and worked for an airline. She used her public speaking, organization and writing skills to teach corporate training and new flight attendant classes.

“People are impressed with education credentials,” she said. “There are so many things you can do with your degree.”

Orangutan Babies

Reeder-Hunt and her husband did not forget about the orangutans. There weren’t any volunteer opportunities when they inquired with OFI, but they didn’t give up. They donated, attended events and made an impression on Galdikas, sponsoring her visit to speak at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and arranging for her to receive a key to the city.

In 2008, the couple made their first trip to Camp Leakey in Borneo, Indonesia. The camp is the longest running study of orangutans, led by Galdikas. Reeder-Hunt said there she got one of the best hugs of her life – from an orangutan of course. And there she got to meet Akmad, the orangutan on the 1975 National Geographic cover.

She said she has learned so much from the orangutan orphans that have been displaced by illegal logging, forest fires, and timber and palm oil plantations. The orangutans are very similar to humans, displaying many of the same emotional responses. They get goosebumps when scared and remember her and her husband each year. The young orangutans pick on others, especially those with a weakness, like children do. As much as teaching may have prepared her for helping orangutan orphans, she said sharing her passion for primates helped students connect to students and fuel creative writing.

“You never know whose life you’re going to touch when you’re teaching,” she said.

Read Reeder-Hunt’s 2012 profile in TCU Magazine