Q&A with Stephanie Wolek

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

I actually came across the program by chance. I was looking at the University of Washington’s degree programs and saw “Marine Affairs”. I wasn’t totally sure what it was, but it piqued my interest. I ended up spending hours on the website and realized that this was the right program for me. I understood that while I was fairly knowledgeable about marine ecology, I didn’t know anything about marine law or policy. This degree seemed like a way to put my science background to use without limiting my future career to research only. I think it’s important to have scientists in the policy making process and I wanted to be one of those scientists!

SMEA student Stephanie Wolek sits on a wooden swing suspended over water. She hangs onto the ropes holding the swing and has her legs and feet dangling down to and into the water.
Becoming a scientist who can contribute to policy-making drew Stephanie to SMEA.

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

The University of Washington already has a fantastic reputation and everything I read about SMEA seemed positive. I ended up visiting in person and saw that the department was small and everyone seemed to know each other. I went to a small school for undergrad and was nervous about going to such a large university—SMEA being a smaller department was actually a major positive for me. I was also concerned as a disabled student but Tiffany put my mind at ease. I’m so glad I visited.

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 an awkward third year so I’m already done with my research. My capstone group looked into groundfish quota shares. The West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program sets aside 10% of their annual quota for “adaptive management”. Essentially, they keep some of the quota in case there are unforeseen problems in the fishery. Goals of the adaptive management quota include community stability and conservation. However, this quota had never been used and was simply given to the fishermen each year. Our group looked into possible uses for the quota and how it might impact the fishery. Our recommendations were sent to NOAA over the summer.

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

This is such a difficult question because two immediately come to mind. I hope I’m not breaking rules by mentioning both. First, I loved Ryan Kelly’s Marine Biodiversity course. I took it my first quarter at SMEA and it was the perfect introduction to marine law, policy, and science. I honestly think every new student should take the class. I also enjoyed Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and July Hazard’s Ecopoetics course. Interdisciplinary courses are always valuable and staying at Friday Harbor Laboratory was a great experience. The course made me think about science in new ways and I even wrote poetry!

What do you like most about SMEA?

It always feels like everyone—classmates and faculty—want you to succeed. Even when my disabilities caught up with me, SMEA helped out and made sure I didn’t fall too behind. They even let me take a class remotely! Classmates know each other because we have small class sizes and there are constant social events. I feel like I’ve made an awesome network of people for life.

SMEA student Stephanie Wolek in a blue sweatshirt sits on a large rock protruding from an algae covered beach. In the foreground of the photo, we see a black dog and Stephanie is holding its leash.
Taking an adventure with one of her many pets.

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

I actually live in Tacoma! I spend most of my spare time commuting to Seattle to go to SMEA, ha! When I’m not stuck on the bus, I enjoy gardening and taking care of my pets (one dog, six reptiles, two quail, and four chickens!). I greatly enjoy hiking and camping—I’m an outdoorsy person in general. When I’m stuck inside, I tend to read or play video games.

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

I would LOVE to write for a major nonprofit such as The Nature Conservancy. I’m currently a science writer, doing small gigs on a regular basis, and I’m hoping to take my writing to the next level. Anything in science communication would be awesome but my dream job would definitely be writing for a nonprofit.

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

This might sound weird but I love marine worms! I studied the feeding responses of fan worms (also known as “feather duster worms”) and was hypnotized by their colors and movements. I really want to work with them again. I also love studying coral and used to grow them in my reef aquariums. This is such a hard question! I’ll go with the worms.