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Flying with Pete Marra

As Dean of Earth Commons at Georgetown University, 50-mile Rider Pete Marra has found a way to expand his love for community and cycling through BellRinger.

5 min read

Photo by Tim Romano (Courtesy of the Smithsonian)

Dr. Peter Marra, a distinguished figure in the field of conservation biology and ornithology, has dedicated his career to understanding and preserving the natural world, particularly focusing on avian ecology and biodiversity. With over two decades of experience at the Smithsonian Institution, most recently as the Director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Pete has delved deep into the intricate patterns of bird migration and the decline of biodiversity on our planet. His passion for environmental conservation and his commitment to educating future generations led him to assume the role of Dean of the Earth Commons, Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment & Sustainability, and Laudato Si’ Professor of Biology and the Environment, where he has been instrumental in developing new and innovative education and research programs while also leading the Marra Lab.

Reflecting on his journey into the field of ornithology, Pete credits his upbringing and formative experiences for igniting his love for birds and nature. As a free-range child in the 1960s, he found solace and fascination in exploring the outdoors, where encounters with a mentor at a local nature center sparked a lifelong passion for birdwatching and conservation. This early influence instilled in him an appreciation for mentorship and experiential learning—values he strives to impart to students at Georgetown through innovative teaching methods.

Photo by Tim Romano (Courtesy of the Smithsonian)

During his five years at Georgetown University, Pete and many critical partners have spearheaded the establishment of three new degrees, including joint professional master’s programs and an undergraduate degree, all focused on interdisciplinary topics in environment and sustainability. His vision extends beyond academic pursuits; he envisions Georgetown as a leader in interdisciplinary environmental research and a catalyst for positive change in addressing these pressing global challenges. By nurturing a culture of environmental stewardship and instilling this new lens across various disciplines, Pete aims to empower future leaders to tackle these complex issues head-on.

Beyond his academic endeavors, Pete is an avid cyclist and a staunch advocate for cancer research and community engagement. He rode in BellRinger’s Inaugural Ride in 2022 and second Ride in 2023, each time completing 50 miles with colleagues and friends. For Pete, BellRinger represents more than just a fundraising opportunity; it embodies community building, solidarity, and hope in the face of a shared challenge. Through cycling and fundraising efforts, he underscores the importance of raising awareness and mobilizing collective action to address societal issues like cancer and environmental conservation.

“Without a broad understanding of the problems we face, we will never get closer to solving them. The same approach we take with ending cancer is the same one we take when attacking any larger community-based problem, like environmental sustainability, climate change or the sixth mass extinction,” said Pete. “BellRinger is not just about raising money for the long-term cure; it’s about increasing awareness about the broader issue of cancer. It sheds light on a collective problem, while providing a collective solution.”

Pete’s love for cycling extends back to his youth, where he cherished his beater bike as a means of exploration. Over the years, cycling has evolved into a source of joy, fitness, and environmental consciousness for him, providing a unique perspective on urban landscapes and fostering a deep connection with nature. Despite his busy schedule, Pete endeavors to carve out time for cycling, recognizing its therapeutic benefits and its potential to inspire positive change.

Looking ahead, Pete remains steadfast in his commitment to BellRinger and is excited to take on the 50-mile Ride for his third year this October. When asked to describe what BellRinger meant to him, Pete shared that what it comes down to is his hope for a brighter future.

It’s just that it gives me hope. In every situation, I’m always looking for hope. So to me, BellRinger is not only an easy place for me to look, but I know that hope is exactly what I will find. I think as a community we have to build things that help people find hope and give them reasons for being positive and optimistic about our collective futures. At the end of the day, that’s what things like BellRinger do. They help us all to be more positive, more optimistic. The little moments that collect over those 25, 50 or 100 miles — those chance meetings, those conversations, connecting with those who were touched by cancer — these are the things that matter and the reason why we all do this. It all comes together to make us more positive about each other and the experiences we share.”

Pete’s multifaceted contributions to conservation biology, education, and community engagement exemplify a deep-rooted passion for safeguarding our planet and fostering a sustainable future. Through his leadership at Georgetown University and his participation in BellRinger, he embodies the transformative power of collective action and underscores the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing global challenges. As an educator, mentor, and advocate, Pete continues to inspire and empower individuals to become catalysts for positive change in their communities and beyond. With two 50-mile Rides completed and over $6,000 raised for cancer research at Georgetown Lombardi through BellRinger, Pete continues to fight alongside our community to put an end to cancer.

May 9, 2024

100% of funds raised support

Academic Health System Partner