Q & A with Karen Villeda

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Marine Affairs?

After spending a couple of years working on community-based marine conservation projects in the developing world, I realized that in order to help build impactful and resilient conservation initiatives I needed to further strengthen some of my technical skills. Through my job, I had been exposed to challenges that were not solely scientific or development focused in nature. I grew increasingly more interested in understanding barriers to success within conservation initiatives and chose to pursue a degree in marine affairs to deepen my capacity to work at the interface of development, management, and science.

Why did you decide to come to UW’s SMEA for graduate school?

I looked at graduate programs across the country, and was really drawn to SMEA. Not only because the program had a very interdisciplinary approach, but also because the staff and professors seemed genuinely invested in the success of their students. The fact that it was in Seattle didn’t hurt either!

Are you doing a thesis or capstone project? If thesis, what are you writing your thesis about and why? If capstone, what is the project about?

I am doing the thesis track. My thesis is a value chain analysis of skipjack tuna in Ambon, Indonesia. I am looking to better understand how changes in the value chain can impact local fishermen – both financially and socially.

What has been your favorite class at UW so far? Why?

My favorite class I’ve taken at UW would have to be fisheries economics with Chris Anderson in SAFS. I walked into the class being really intimidated by the idea of learning about economics, and walked out with just a great wealth of knowledge. Chris really engages his students and provided me with an insight I did not previously have. I would recommend this class to every first year at SMEA.

What do you like most about SMEA?

The people. I have a wonderful advisor who is a thought leader in his space and classmates who are equally as passionate about their work. It is not every day that you get to learn from, not to mention work with, intellectuals that have grounded their work in the field. I appreciate the time my advisor has invested in me, and the impact he and the Marina Lab, have added to my education and professional development.

What’s it like to live in Seattle? What do you do in your spare time?

Moving to Seattle was a bit of an adjustment for me as an east coaster, but it has really been a meaningful experience. The access to the mountains, the ocean, and the culture are unmatched. In my spare time you can find me drinking my way (both coffee and beer) across Seattle, hiking, or exploring the many islands that surround Seattle.

If you could design your ultimate job after graduating, what would it be and why?

I would like to work as a fisheries project manager or advisor for an international NGO’s field program. I imagine being able to merge my interest in improving small-scale fisheries management with my interest in community development and empowerment.

What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

I would definitely say a fish, maybe a napoleon wrasse or sheepshead. Both fish are kind of weird looking, from places I love, and have been the topic of both my work and studies.