Q&A with Katie Shelledy

A young woman wearing black pants, a long sleeved shirt, backpack, and hat is seen standing on a beach with her back to the calm water. A cliff is seen in the background.
Photo provided.
Having been in land-locked locations for college and research assignments, Katie likes to explore her coastal surroundings.

Could you describe your experience in applying to and selecting a graduate program?

When I applied for graduate school, I was working as a junior acoustician with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. I looked at a bunch of schools and programs, and my main criteria were 1) interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary ocean-focused program and 2) located in a coastal city. Most of my training and experience at that point was skewed toward natural science, and I had been living in kind of isolated areas for the past 6 years (college in central Pennsylvania and a 2-year research gig without a car in Highlands, NJ). I had 6 programs on my list, although I only ended up applying to two: SMEA and University of Edinburgh’s Marine Systems and Policies MSc. After being accepted to both programs, I talked with students and professors who were part of the program, and I visited SMEA to check it out in person.

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

I ended up picking SMEA because I wanted to learn about environmental justice. From my conversations with representatives of each program, it seemed like SMEA’s program had justice built into its curriculum more than University of Edinburgh did. SMEA was also a larger program, which was appealing because I wanted a network of interesting people. There were personal reasons as well: my brother is at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, and Seattle has direct flights to Milwaukee, WI where the rest of my immediate family lives.

Tell us about your Thesis work.

SMEA student Katie Shelledy wears a gray sweatshirt and glasses, while holding a coffee mug in front of her desk at home.
Photo provided.
Covid-19 hasn’t slowed Katie’s thesis progress (or coffee consumption). She’s turning the pandemic into her research project.

For my thesis, I am writing about how Covid-19 has affected disaster management of tropical cyclones. Basically, I talk about the connection between natural disasters and infectious disease outbreaks, look at a few initial cases of governments’ trying to prevent and contain Covid-19 during a tropical cyclone, and then analyze national level policies for how they address Covid-19 risks. The policies that I’m looking at are from Tonga, Fiji, and Vanuatu. In addition to the written thesis, I’m hoping to have some kind of output that could be used by the Pacific Islands Forum or similar. The goal is to create something useful!

What assignment, paper, project, or experience has been the most eye-opening for you? Any lightbulb moments in the program so far?

I have learned the most from my research assistantship with Kate Crosman. The research itself focuses on how published authors in ocean policy talk about “equity” and “justice” and applying that to an equity framework that Kate created. Over the last year, I read 120 papers on the topic, and now I’m organizing a massive database to characterize and analyze the body of literature. It has been interesting reading the papers, because sometimes I come across one and realize I want to do what those authors are doing!

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

My ideal job post-graduation would have an international focus and put me in the room where the decision-making is happening. I don’t want to be a part of the decision making process itself, but I want to be an advocate for people who should or want to be involved. I think ocean policy ought to meet the needs of people whose lives are most intimately connected with the ocean, and I would love to be involved with working toward that.

SMEA student Katie Shelledy sitting at an outdoor restaurant table holding a cocktail with an orange garnish.
Photo provided.
Katie relaxes after diving, enjoying a cocktail outside during some beautiful Puget Sound weather.


What environment or ecosystem have you learned about in SMEA that you would like to visit or see first-hand someday?

With my focus on Pacific Islands as well as learning Tagalog, I would love to spend some time in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, and the Philippines. It would be such a remarkable experience to have quality time there. Academia, for all its merit, can feel a bit like an ivory tower sometimes, and if I end up doing work with or for Pacific communities, I need to actually know the community members.