Q & A with Celeste Barnes-Crouse

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

After moving to the west coast as a teenager, I totally fell in love with the ocean. As an undergrad, I pursued a Bachelor of Science in geography and coastal studies so I could learn more about it. I focused mainly in the natural sciences, but once I started considering careers I decided I wanted to know more about the human dimensions around our coasts and oceans. After some research, a Master’s of Marine Affairs seemed like a great way to move into the applied science and policy realm that was increasingly interesting to me.

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

I’ve been talking about completing a Master’s degree since I was a kid. In my senior year of undergrad, I had been poking around at university programs along the west coast. I was living in Victoria, British Columbia at the time, and I was ready to move when I graduated but I didn’t want to go too far. My husband floated the idea of taking a job in Seattle, and since I already had SMEA bookmarked in my computer, I saw the pieces of my puzzle starting to come together.

It didn’t take much to convince me that it was the right choice. The University of Washington has a great reputation and SMEA alumni are employed in a variety of interesting roles, not to mention that it’s a beautiful campus and the SMEA buildings are right on the shores of Portage Bay. After reading through the faculty profiles and reviewing their research, I started feeling excited about going back to school. I already knew SMEA was the right place for me, so I didn’t hesitate to apply.

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 writing a thesis about the environmental messaging presented aboard whale watching tours in the Salish Sea. These tours operate within the habitat of endangered whale species, so whale watching companies have the opportunity and responsibility to impart knowledge to the public about the area and the animals. I was curious to explore what topics they include and how they deliver them. To do this, I joined in several tours over the summer of 2018 to observe these presentations and survey the experiences of the passengers. My goal is to provide suggestions to the companies to optimize their educational component to connect their passengers with conservation strategies and inspire environmental stewardship.

And, from a personal standpoint, it was pretty cool getting to spend time with whales.

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

I took a special topics class called Improvisation for Science Communication that was very fun and a great learning experience. It was offered by the College of Environment and taught by Tim Essington. He is a fantastic professor. He brings so much positivity and energy into the classroom, and it’s obvious how much he cares about our learning. He taught us how to find joy and confidence when we present (at a conference, for example), how to own our space and move with intentionality, and reminded us to be ourselves instead of putting forward the face we think people want us to be. I would highly recommend this class to anyone looking to strengthen their presentation skills and have a blast doing it!

What do you like most about SMEA?

Is it cheesy to say the people? My cohort is full of genuine, interesting, intelligent people and I feel lucky to have made amazing friends.

I also really like the variety of classes offered by the program. The interdisciplinary nature of SMEA opened my eyes to the breadth of topics related to our field and I probably wouldn’t have considered them before.

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

When I first moved to Seattle it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The tall buildings downtown felt a little claustrophobic after living in Victoria for 5 years. After a few months, I definitely warmed up to it. The food scene persuaded me to like it here. There is no shortage of great restaurants, coffee, and breweries to try on any occasion.

Also, I love that Seattle is super dog-friendly! Having a dog here is a blast. I like to spend my spare time hanging out with her. I can bring my dog to a brewery with me (shout out to Peddler Brewing Company)! Lots of Seattleites love dogs, so my dog gets a lot of love and attention when we leave the house.

And, of course, the scenery is beautiful. Nothing
compares to seeing the ocean and the Olympic Mountains on my commute to school. When the weather is nice, you’ll find SMEA people (SMEAple) flocking to the countless nearby hikes.

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

The perfect job would be one where I can observe whales in nature, advocate for marine conservation, educate people about marine biology and ecology, and have it all culminate in making positive change for protecting our environment. I don’t know what that would be called… but I would love it!

As for something more practical for when I’m finished my Master’s, I think I would like to work in environmental engagement and outreach. It’s important to make sure stakeholders are informed and included in the conversation when big decisions are being made. Working for sustainable and equitable policy is something I would find rewarding.

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

It changes almost every week, but one of my consistent favourites is northern sea otters, mainly because they’re adorable. They’re also highly adapted – they’ve learned how to use rocks as tools to crack open shelled prey like clams and Dungeness crabs, they eat by floating on their backs and using their bellies as tables, and they have a built-in drysuit with the densest fur of the entire animal kingdom (with up to one million hairs per square inch of their bodies!). And did I mention how cute they are? They’re so cute.