Dr. Anna Sher Simon is a biology professor, author, activist, wife, and mother whose research on restoration of damaged ecosystems is widely referenced.

A speaker at our previous Make + Believe event, Dr. Sher served as the Director of Research at Denver Botanic Gardens for seven years and is now a professor at DU. She and her wife, Fran, were the first couple in the state to receive a civil union. Here, we talk about Star Wars voice-overs and manufactured plant-art.


What do you think it will take for people to realize that the more we damage our external ecosystems, the more our internal ecosystems suffer?

My ambition is that through education of all types (formal and informal), more of us can get on the same page with regard to the importance of taking care of the Earth’s ecosystems. I agree with author Richard Louve that this needs to be a message of hope, rather than doom and gloom—the latter not being motivating at all.

Are there extra steps our TEDxMileHigh community can take to ensure they are more observant of the environment?

I believe that the only “step” necessary is to be present in the moment—it’s easy to live in the past or the future, which blinds us from what is actionable now.

What’s something you can only learn at the Denver Botanic Gardens?

As beautiful as the Gardens are, it is a manufactured environment—actually a work of art—so there is actually a risk of “learning” the wrong things if you are mistaking it for a natural system. Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of staff members work tirelessly 365 days a year to create what you are enjoying there. That said, I hope that visitors can learn how beautiful the “Water Smart” and native plants can be for their own gardens, because private gardens can be important resources for native wildlife when they use these plants.

What’s something few people know about you?

I have many spheres of my life, as an academic, a political activist, a mother, a friend … I think that if you put people from each of those communities together there will be very little that isn’t known about me, because I’m terrible at keeping secrets and wear my faults on my sleeve. The only thing that comes to mind that none of these folks likely know is that I taught myself how to ride the unicycle in seventh grade after getting a crush on a girl who rode one. I loved riding it, even if it was exhausting (you can’t coast like on a bicycle).

What’s the last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably?

A YouTube video with funny voiceovers of film footage from The Empire Strikes Back—especially the kissing scene between Princess Lea and Han Solo where she says, “I’m not German,” and he replies, “And I’m not a Mexican potato.” Just watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

When did you last make time for make-believe?

My son loves play-acting and we enjoy doing that together. Our favorite is making his stuffed animals have adventures; I do all of the different voices.

Do you have a favorite TED talk?

I have so many favorites, but about half of them are by Brene Brown. I think she’s brilliant!