Q & A with Alex Gustafson

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

I received Bachelors degrees in Environmental Science and Political Science with the intention of getting a Masters from a coastal university focused on coastal issues. This degree seemed like one where I could really capitalize on my strengths in both academic realms, pursue my lifelong interest of all things aquatic and also discover new skills.

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

Interestingly enough, I had my eye on the University of Washington for their women’s swimming program when I was being recruited in high school. Just before my senior year, the University cut the entire men’s and women’s swimming and diving program. So, I put the idea of coming here in my back pocket until it was time to apply to graduate schools. When I stepped on the campus for a visit and met some of the students I was immediately impressed with how they spoke about the program and the things they were learning. I liked how the students were able to pursue their individual interests and how knowledgeable the faculty were in their respective fields. It seemed like a place I could continue chasing my career dreams.

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? 

My thesis research is exploring juvenile salmonid survival in Salmon Creek watershed in California with Dr. Cleo Woelfle-Erskine. Steelhead and Coho come to the tributaries of Salmon Creek to spawn and the juveniles grow there before returning to the ocean. Over the summer, the streamflow ceases due to the lack of precipitation and the salmonids are left to live with a finite amount of resources in the remaining pools of water before the rain returns in the fall.  I am interested in observing how creek parameters such as water quality, volume and surface area change between drought and wet years and ultimately how this impacts salmonid survival. My research will be continuing Cleo’s ongoing study of this region.

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

International Law of the Sea with Craig Allen. That class challenged me in ways I have never been challenged before. I managed to endure because I met some of my closest and dearest SMEA friends in that class. As a notable mention I would say FSH 447/447 Watershed Ecology and Management. I had so much fun on the field trips in this class and it set me up really well  for my thesis research.

What do you like most about SMEA?

I really enjoy learning from my fellow classmates and I am always pleased with how much this is encouraged within the program. Each of my classmates has so much experience and knowledge to offer and this has enriched my experience so much. Also, the SMEA computer lab.

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

Living in Seattle is a blast!! There are mountains, water, trees and lots of dogs everywhere you look. I like to do all of the watersports I can make time for, go on adventures with my friends and eat a lot of seafood. I am having so much fun living here because people go out and do things, no matter the season or weather.

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

A dream job would be a managing director of a restoration and/or rehabilitation project. I am most passionate about connecting ranges of different wildlife (salmon strongholds, wildlife corridors, etc), Pacific Northwest river restoration, exploring innovative approaches to dam removal or upgrades, and coastline management. Plus a job of that nature would require the use of so many interdisciplinary skills I have learned in my time in SMEA that I think I could do really well in helping all of the interested groups achieve a goal. I would want the job to include time spent in the office and also time spent in the field, probably 60/40. Additionally I would love to have a educational and outreach component to my job. I thoroughly enjoy outdoor education and teaching outdoors, so doing that with community members of all ages would be ideal.

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

I’m going to go with a wildcard here, there are wolves on some of the islands off of British Columbia that derive their diet primarily from the sea. They are called coastal wolves!!! There are even photos of them swimming! So, I am really into those, right now. I am also a really big fan of tidepool critters.