Q & A with Colin Bowser

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

I wanted to orient my profession towards applied ocean science and saw a program that was broader than pure oceanography to be a good way to put the science that I enjoy to good work. At this point in my life, I couldn’t reasonably invest the time required for a PhD and I knew I would not be fulfilled by going in a direction that strayed far from ocean science. So, the limitations of time and the indulgence in my own interests steered me here, which I’m very thankful for.

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

The fortunate coincidence of the strength of UW and SMEA combined with the appealing region of Puget Sound, with the practical need to not impose a huge disruption on my family by moving us away from Seattle while my older children are still in high school. The SMEA program furnishes the blend of natural science with the methods to apply that science in public-facing problems, and that blend aligns (I hope) with where I want my next career to go. I tried to make this transition from a former career into ocean science & policy at two other times in the last 15 years, but I could not make it work. I considered this to be my last good opportunity to leap, so I feel grateful to wring all I can from the SMEA program.

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 a thesis on how to broaden the appeal of coastal zone management, make the term more well-known in the general vernacular, and see if anyone is incentivizing responsible coastal zone management to the point that it could be profitable to do good coastal zone management. Specifically, I would like to see how coastal zone management is used at the front lines of development and conservation on the U.S. west coast. This appeals to me because I grew up in Northern California, and I cherished childhood day trips to the beaches near Santa Cruz (Pescadero, Pomponio, and others). Like anyone from there, I looked apprehensively at how the region was growing so rapidly. After I left home for college and a career in the military, I saw many examples of how well or how badly human development along the coast or in watersheds that feed the coast, could be. I wanted to learn how to help shape the inevitable march of development to be both gentle on the environment and pleasing to people who need to use their built world and our natural world.

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

Restoration Problem Solving:  Environmental Engineering (ESRM 474). It was co-taught by two experienced civil engineers and dealt with how various landscape restoration projects are done, from stream culverts to solar arrays to soil erosion management and bioswales, and other topics that I’d like to someday build into a “someday house” of my own.

What do you like most about SMEA?

I really like how large and expansive the opportunity is – the breadth of classes and expertise that we can absorb and build upon is amazing to me. The freedom to scope this degree with the latitude we are given is a great point, and something that I think prepares us well to either go further in our education or quickly make an impact in a job. With UW, the College of the Environment, and the Puget Sound region solidifying that opportunity, we are in a good position to go far.

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

I mostly like it, but I still pine for an earlier Spring and more sun. I love the natural beauty of this area, the cultural opportunities, and the proximity to such a variety of things to do. I think it’s fantastic to see the city flourish, but also it’s a little discouraging to see Seattle home prices explosively rise along a similar trajectory as the San Francisco Bay Area did in the 1990’s.

In my spare time, I mostly do things with my wife and three children. Evenings and weekends are usually busy with family things and necessities, but when I have a window of time, I’d like to go hiking, take photos around Discovery Park, or read. If I somehow had a few days to spare and the planets aligned, I’d love to take my family to the Olympic coast area.

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

I would work for a company that helped run coastal zone management projects, bringing together people, governments, conservation allies, and businesses to build something people would be proud to use and happy to see in their environment without regrets. But somehow, that job would need a big dose of working in a team setting and working outside in the field, either along the coast or up in the mountains.

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

When I was in the navy and stationed on a ship in San Diego, I’d stand watch on the bridge of the ship and steal glances over the rail and down to the water below as we sailed across the Pacific to the Persian Gulf. Almost the whole way there, from the eastern Pacific through the Indian Ocean, I saw flying fish leap out of the water and skim on top of the waves. They would ride the bow wave that the ship cut through the water before plopping back in, and provided a heartening moment many times along the way to the Gulf. I think I’ll always like flying fish for that.