Q & A with Valerie Cleland

Photo credit Carina Skrobecki

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

With a background in science, I craved the skills to make larger changes that impact coastal communities and marine environments. An interdisciplinary Masters would provide me with the skills to speak the languages of both science and policy and thus work more effectively between these worlds. It doesn’t hurt that I have had a lifelong love affair with the ocean, making a marine focused Masters even more appealing.

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

SMEA fit the bill of everything I wanted in grad school: it is in the PNW, it is one the longest running and best programs for this subject in the country, it has great faculty, and it wasn’t going to make me choose between my love of science and interest in policy. SMEA alums are everywhere in the world of marine policy, and I wanted to be a part of that network. Also worth mentioning that UW alone is an incredible institution to be a part of. There is so much going on here and so many opportunities for graduate students.

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 went with a capstone. I wanted more experience working with a larger group and it meant a lot to me that someone wanted to read the work I was doing. I don’t plan on continuing in academia, so a project seemed like a better fit for me. I am doing a capstone project with NOAA’s Emergency Response Department. We are looking at changes in shipping patterns after the U.S. lifted a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. Due to this change in policy, transportation routes may have shifted which would impact oil spill risk along the West Coast.

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

I can’t pick just one. International Law of the Sea with Craig Allen was amazing in expanding my understanding of international ocean governance and this course connected me to some of my closest friends at SMEA. I also loved Ryan Kelly’s U.S. Coastal and Ocean Law (noticing a theme here?) course where we learned about important cases in environmental law– this class provided critical foundation for my understanding of marine and environmental issues in the U.S.

Okay two more- Arctic Vertebrate Ecology with Kristin Laidre and Natural Resource Economics for Fisheries Management with Chris Anderson.

What do you like most about SMEA?

That this program truly allows me to shape it to my interests. I got involved with an Arctic program through Jackson School of International Studies and went up to Alaska in my first year for a class. I’m learning an Inuit language, Inuktitut, through the Canadian studies department. I can go listen to lectures in SAFS and take courses in the law school. I also deeply appreciate the faculty and staff within SMEA, they are easy to talk to and have been enormously helpful.

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

I love Seattle; I’m a little afraid I’ll never leave. I make a point to try and get out every weekend to take advantage of this place we’re so lucky to call home. Whether it’s snowshoeing or skiing in the winter or hiking and paddling in the summer, this state truly has it all. I’m working two jobs while in grad school, one with a small environmental consulting group, 48 North Solutions, and the other as an outdoor school instructor for REI. So spare time can be hard to come by, but when it does come, it comes in the form of good friends, live music, and some local brews.

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

I would work on collaborative policy issues and help facilitate conversation between groups with different interests in our natural resources. I’d love to do this for issues around Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. I want to be a part of the policy solutions and work on some of the ‘wicked’ environmental issues. Honestly, it would be great just to be working with people on marine issues and be able to bridge the gap between science and policy. I’d also love a chance to try working on policy at a national scale.

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

Bioluminescence! These incredible dinoflagellates create a such a strong sense of wonder about the marine world. It’s even better than magic.