Q & A with Tressa Arbow

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

As an undergrad I studied Government and African Studies and I was originally interested in international education policy. I taught English as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda for two years and taught middle school in Austin for a few after that, and throughout that time I was becoming more and more interested in environmental issues. My Peace Corps service really sparked my interest in the ways tourism impacts the environment, animals, and communities in developing countries, and learning about that just snowballed into a more broad interest in marine and environmental issues. Eventually I just knew I needed to step away from education to pursue something in this field, and because the MMA is interdisciplinary and can be designed around specific interests it was really the perfect option for me.

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

For a while I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to have a career in an environmental field because I hadn’t studied natural sciences as an undergrad or worked in a “sciency” field afterward. When I found SMEA I contacted Tiffany about my concerns and I was so excited when she told me that SMEA students have a wide range of experience and do well in the program without natural science backgrounds or career goals. As I researched the program I realized that my undergrad in Government actually made a lot of sense for an environmental affairs program, and there were classes and professors who worked on everything I wanted to study. Being located in Seattle was also a huge bonus because my husband is from here!

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’m doing a thesis, but my topic was originally offered as a capstone so I’m getting the best of both worlds. My thesis is about equity in Washington’s maritime industry. I think equity is often an afterthought or overlooked altogether in environmental policy, and with this particular project I get to take what the Washington State Department of Commerce is currently working on in maritime sustainability and look at their goals through lenses of equity and social justice. I’d still like to work in international environmental affairs eventually, and I think the skills I’m developing with this thesis will give me more to offer communities who are impacted by environmental issues and policies.

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

My two favorite classes were Pacific Tourism and Recreation with Marc Miller and Marine Biodiversity: Science, Law, and Policy with Ryan Kelly. They are both really dynamic teachers who facilitate engaging classroom discussions. In the tourism class we learned how to think and study and talk about tourism with credibility, and in the biodiversity class we learned how various fields like law and science interact to solve (or sometimes create) environmental issues. I can’t choose one – I recommend them both!

What do you like most about SMEA?

My cohort! It’s true that we come from all different backgrounds and have a wide range of interests and it makes the experience so much richer. We each bring something different to the table so we can push and support each other in a way that makes us all better.

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

I absolutely love living in Seattle. I grew up in Texas and much prefer the milder weather here. I know it drizzles a lot, but at least you can walk to class without melting! My husband and I love to take our dog on hikes, go kayaking, camping, and just generally be outdoors as much as possible. We’re big Seattle sports fans so we go to lots of games for whatever is in season. Seattle is also an excellent place to be if you love coffee and/or breweries.

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

I’m pretty sure this exact job title doesn’t exist but it would be something like East Africa Marine Tourism Consultant and it would be with the UN World Tourism Organization, USAID, FAO, or a similar international institution. In that role I would work with tourism and environmental departments in East African countries to develop tourism policies that protect the environment and generate income for local communities.

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

Right now I think it’s our Southern Resident orcas because their population is really struggling and I think they’re finally starting to get a tiny bit of the mainstream media attention they deserve.