If you’ve tuned in to National Public Radio any time in the last eight years, you’ve likely heard the familiar voice of Ari Daniel Shapiro. This former Brush Valedictorian is now a regular presence on NOVA, Public Radio International’s The World, and other public media programs. Shapiro, who uses the name Ari Daniel professionally to avoid confusion with another NPR reporter, has used his background as a scientist to bring award-winning science reporting to the masses.
Ari’s fascination with science began in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools. “I had Nora Doerder for AP Biology my junior year. I loved the lectures and labs. She cultivated and celebrated curiosity and had high expectations of her students”, recalled Ari. “I remember coming back from spring break with a list of things I wanted to learn more about. Ms. Doerder helped me research them one by one.” Ari Daniel’s curiosity and love of learning was not limited to science. A favorite memory from his SEL years was the personal attention he received from Spanish teacher, Jonetta Anderson. “During Spanish II, I had a desire to learn more. Sra. Anderson took me on to do an independent study. I worked every day in the back of her class on my own, and she and I would review my progress and speak in Spanish every Friday after school. During my junior and senior years, she often drove me to school so that we could spend a half hour conversing in Spanish in the car. Even her husband got involved, helping to prepare me for the AP Spanish Literature exam”, said Ari, who remains fascinated by languages, is proficient in French, and is currently learning Arabic.
According to Ari, there was never a question that he would attend SEL Schools. “I come from a family of educators. My father taught in Cleveland Public Schools for 31 years and my mother was a professor at John Carroll, Case, and now U Mass Boston. Our family values education, especially public education. I got a great education at SEL Schools that rivaled or exceeded any private school.”
Ari, who graduated with the highest GPA on record for Brush High School at that time, went on to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biology at Boston College, then became a Fulbright Scholar, studying Animal Behavior at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, obtaining a Master’s degree in Animal Behavior, then finally obtaining his Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography in June of 2008 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Between his Fulbright year and work on his Ph.D., Ari worked for a year in a service corps program called Avodah as a Legal Advocate for the Urban Justice Center, representing recipients of public assistance at fair housing hearings and engaging in housing advocacy for low income and homeless clients. He has continued his commitment to serving others in a variety of ways, including serving as an elementary school math tutor and tax preparer for low income clients.
Ari’s transition from scientist to science reporter was a way to connect his love of science to his commitment to social and environmental justice with a dose of the theatrical thrown in. He has been involved in theater since middle school, finding it the perfect balance to his academic pursuits. Journalism seemed like the ideal way to pull all of those passions together. Fate intervened during the summer before Ari’s last year in graduate school. He volunteered to speak at an ocean science program for journalists offered by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he proclaimed his interest in radio publicly. After his talk, one of the journalists in attendance suggested that he check out Transom.org, a resource for those interested in public radio. Transom’s mission is to help put new voices on the radio. He discovered the fascinating coincidence that Transom, and its parent company, Atlantic Public Media, are located in Woods Hole, next door to the building where Ari had been attending academic meetings for years.
An informational interview followed with a producer from Atlantic Public Media and Ari began producing short 30-60 second pieces featuring scientists talking about their research. He loved it, and a career in journalism was born.
Since that time, Ari has traveled the world producing segments on a wide range of diverse topics such as climate change on a melting glacier in Greenland, solar energy production in Spain, quantum entanglement, and how mathematicians might serve as expert witnesses for gerrymandering legal cases. Most recently, NOVA received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to conduct timely reporting on the science angle in the news. Ari is creating roughly three digital videos per month for Facebook and other social platforms that highlight the role that science plays in current affairs. In addition to this reporting, Ari has produced a series of digital, interactive games on science topics for NOVA.
When asked to recount a favorite story of his career, Ari shares one of the first radio stories he produced for PRI’s The World. While traveling to France to present a paper from his dissertation, he interviewed Iegor Reznikoff, an older Frenchman who was practiced in the art of ancient chanting. Reznikoff posited that within caves, the sections decorated with ancient paintings were the most resonant places to chant. Ari recorded Reznikoff chanting within a cave in Burgundy, France and the experience has stayed with him. “When I heard his song entering my recorder, I felt like I was listening to the most precious lullaby. And I was so grateful that I’d be able to share that lullaby with others.”
Ari and his wife Ghinwa Choueiter, a computer scientist, live in Boston with their 14-month-old daughter, Leila.
Photo Credit: Amanda Kowalski