With summer drawing near, eighth graders can see a silver lining on the looming clouds of final exams: graduation. The eighth grade graduation will take place on May 24, and as is tradition, a Pinewood alumnus has been asked to give a speech. This year, graduate of the Pinewood class of 2001 Nik Sawe will be the eighth grade graduation speaker.
Sawe graduated from Stanford University, studying biology with a neuroscience focus, and more recently received his Ph.D. in Environment and Resources.
Over the years, he has worked in biotechnology, neuroscience, neuroeconomics, and has studied the neuroscience of environmental decision making.
Growing up in the Bay Area, Sawe joined Pinewood as a freshman. During high school, he wrote for the school newspaper, but was not able to participate in many activities due to having osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that causes brittle bones.
Finding himself often housebound, he used that time for creative writing. His book “Wolf Trails”, a novel following a wolf pack as it struggles to survive in the wilderness, was published when he was in 12th grade.
“When I was younger, I was bedridden a lot of the time, [so] I ended up coming up with a lot of creative outlets to keep me busy, and mainly at that time that was writing. [It was] a fun thing that I would do, since I was figuring out ways to keep myself occupied,” Sawe said.
Sawe was also interested in the sciences, a prelude to his work in biotechnology and neuroeconomics. His interest in biology led him to take the AP Biology class, taught by no other than current biology teacher Kim Hudson.
“He was really good at biology. He always got it really quickly, understood the connections really well, and he was always very excited about it,” Hudson said.
After Sawe graduated college, he worked in biotechnology for many years before deciding he wanted to focus more on the environmental side of biology. Combining his interests in neuroscience and the environment, he founded the Environmental Decision Making and Neuroscience Lab at Stanford in 2010, to apply the neuroscience of decision — making to the choices we make about the environment.
Currently, Sawe teaches environmental decision making at Stanford, in which he explores what motivates people to preserve the environment, and how people deal with environmental hazards. He also teaches an environmental government class.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing now, because basically no one else is working on applying neuroeconomics to the environment … that’s been really fun to be exploring and pioneering that and just seeing how many other people are actually interested in that intersection of studying what’s going on in the brain while we’re making decisions that have major impacts on our planet. That’s probably the most unique thing that
I’ve had a lot of fun exploring,” Sawe said.
In addition to his work, Sawe enjoys writing, painting, and composing music on the piano and guitar. He has also developed software that turns data into music, which has been getting a lot of coverage recently and has been covered in news articles from major magazines such as “The Smithsonian” and “The Atlantic.” His software takes raw data, such as information on how climate change is impacting Alaskan forests, and converts it into an orchestral piece, with every tree species playing a different instrument, the pitches of the notes representing the heights of the trees and the note
duration representing the health of each tree.
Looking back at his experience at Pinewood, Sawe is appreciative of how it shaped what he is doing today.
“Ms. Hudson’s biology class was good at putting me on the task to do bio in a lot of different forms for all the years after that, and I still keep in touch
with Ms. Hudson even today. People at Pinewood are very welcoming, and there’s a very familial feel to the school and I think that was definitely a big positive aspect. It’s just a very supportive and very nurturing environment,” Sawe said.