Q&A with Marlena Skrobe

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

A woman wearing headphones and extending a microphone toward another woman wearing a yellow headscarf are seated on a couch inside of a home.
Marlena Skrobe
Interviewing a singer in Bangau Bangau.

I double majored in Marine Affairs and Visual Journalism with a focus on anthropology for my undergraduate studies while at the University of Miami in Florida. I then worked in the film industry for a number of years as a camera assistant and casting director in New York City in order to learn more about the technical side of filmmaking. I’ve always been a storyteller, but I always felt a special connection to coastal cultures and wanted to explore how film and storytelling fit into the conservation narrative – or break it open. Working in the film industry was extremely beneficial and opened a lot of doors, but after a few years I knew it was time to dive back into academia to gain a better understanding of new ocean issues and the methods/approaches being taken to approach them.

How did you first learn about UW’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs? What influenced you to apply?

I think I had some downtime when I was on set one day and I did some quick google searching and came across the program. One of my friends was working with Eddie Allison at the time and spoke very highly of him so I familiarized myself with his work as well as the rest of the faculty members. I immediately knew this was the program for me. I loved how the faculty had such broad interests and that holds true today as I gear up for graduation. Ocean issues are inherently complex and demand an interdisciplinary approach so going to a school that mirrored that was important to me.

A woman wearing a backpack and carrying poles stands on a snow covered trail with trees and mountain tops visible in the background.

The upside of Seattle winters…

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 working on a capstone project under the guidance of Patrick Christie alongside Henry Bell, Katy Dalton, Dave Berndtson, and Ben Kantner. We’re working for our client, Dr. Leopoldo Gerhardinger, who is developing an ocean-related learning network in Brazil. He tasked our team with collecting and analyzing good practices and lessons learned from ocean-related learning networks around the world in order to assist the development of PainelMar, his learning network in Brazil. Learning networks have existed in the marine realm for years, but very little academic research has explored their functionality and the types of outcomes and impacts they have on marine resources and the communities that depend on them. Our capstone group is the first SMEA capstone to pursue primary research in an international setting and it has definitely been a challenge, but also extremely rewarding. We’ve been interviewing learning network members from around the world for the past few months and I have learned so much about global conservation issues that the world is currently facing. I’ve loved working with such an incredible group of students who bring such empathy and dedication that’s so necessary for the work we’re doing, but also just the right amount of fun – lots of it.

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

I’m sure everyone who does a student spotlight says this, but this is such a hard question! I’ve loved all the SMEA courses, but I’m in the International Development Certificate Program and that has allowed me to explore the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. I’ve really loved Scott Fritzen’s classes. I’m currently taking his class on corruption this quarter and it’s been extremely eye opening thus far. What’s incredible (and shocking) is that almost every single person in the class has shared an experience where they dealt with corruption so we’re not just learning from Scott, but from one another.

I’ve also been able to take an independent study with Dr. Yoshitaka Ota, which has allowed me to utilize my background – filmmaking. I’m currently working on two films on marine debris and the complex issues surrounding our dependence on plastic. He’s allowed me to follow my creative side, but challenged me to think like an academic. I’m very appreciative that I was able to find a program that allowed me to still pick up a camera, but even more appreciative that I was able to learn about marine debris because this is the path I want to explore after graduation.

If you had to choose 3 words to describe the SMEA community, what would you choose and why?

Enthusiastic. Compassionate. Witty. I love and appreciate how enthusiastic everyone is about their work, but also how open they are able to collaborate and learn from one another. I feel like the office is either quiet because everyone is working hard or full of laughter. You definitely need a balance of both.

3 hikers standing in a clearing with evergreen trees on all sides of them. A snow-capped Mt. Rainier is in the distance.
Marlena Skrobe
There she is! On a summer hike with fellow SMEAples

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

Seattle is a wonderful city to live in, especially if you love both the city life and the outdoors. I come from New York City, so I love spending my weekends hiking, biking, going to the beach, or adventuring outside and appreciating all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. There’s a great brewery scene here and I often use it as motivation to try new beers in different neighborhoods around the city. My favorite place to eat is Cycle Dogs, a vegan fast food truck that’s parked outside of Peddler Brewery. Oh, and Rainier! I mean every time I see Mount Rainier my jaw just drops to the floor and I have to shout “there she is!”

A woman is smiling and dancing with one hand extended away from her body and the other closer to her chest. Colorful flags adorn the building behind her, while two other women appear to be dancing in the background.
Marlena Skrobe
Attempting to dance Igal in Bangau Bangau, Malaysia.

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

As long as I am working with coastal people, specifically those being impacted by major ocean issues such as climate change, marine debris, etc – I’ll be happy. I’m not sure where I’ll be down the road, but after graduation I’d love to keep making films about marine debris and the failure of our global waste management system.

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

I’m sure if you ask me this question tomorrow I will have a different answer, but today i’ll have to go with Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). That and I’m sure if I gave any other answer my cohort would be shocked…they know i’m obsessed. Our 500 class focused on the SRKW and researching these whales and learning about how important they are to the community here really helped me connect with my new home. I went to SRKW Task Force Meetings, met local researchers, and after months of following The Orca Network on Facebook I finally spotted them. I now carry two sets of binoculars with me wherever I go. I’ve seen them a handful of times and it’s always so impressive and awe inspiring. They also happen to be my partner’s favorite form of marine life and seeing his face light up when he sees them is just the best.