Q&A with Lindsey Popken

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

A young woman wearing a black jacket is petting the back of a gray sea otter. They appear to be in an aquarium enclosure.
Photo provided.
Lindsey LOVES sea otters (her classmates can vouch for this), and she had the chance to feed Ollie while doing some research at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

While working as an environmental consultant for industrial companies, I grew to respect the work but realized it was not for me. I was working on a sea otter-related thesis at UC Davis, but it was difficult to research a really interesting facet of marine affairs at a landlocked university! I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and always imagined I would take some time off after graduating from UC Davis with my bachelors, but as graduation approached, I realized I didn’t want to stop researching and learning about marine policy and management and decided to go to graduate school right after graduating!

How did SMEA first come across your radar? What were your impressions of the program?

SMEA came up during a sophisticated Google search, and I was immediately intrigued by how closely it aligned with my interests. There was a strong policy focus and also allowed for gaining experience in marine science and law. I was super excited that an interdisciplinary program existed because I always felt like an outsider at UC Davis because I did not fully fit in at my home department of anthropology because I had such a strong interest in policy.

A young woman dressed in winter clothes including a gray coat, scarf, and black headband is sitting on a metal guardrail. There is snow underfoot for her and the other 5-6 individuals in the background.
Photo provided.
After completing research as an undergraduate, Lindsey was able to present her research at a conference at Yellowstone National Park.

Who is in your support network while you’re pursuing your MMA?

My friends and family are the only reason why I have made it this far. My advisor, Dr. P. Joshua Griffin, has been so supportive and understanding; he’s always telling me that I bite too much off and encourages me to take care of myself rather than taking on too much, and I really appreciate that!

Tell us about your Thesis work.

I had the pleasure of co-developing a project with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s fisheries department, which represents the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island, Canada. I hope to contribute to conversations around Indigenizing sea otter management so that Nuu-chah-nulth world views, knowledge, and sovereignty are uplifted and the foundation for sea otter management after being excluded for decades after sea otters were reintroduced to their waters without consultation (and really since the beginning of colonialism).

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

Cleo’s [Cleo Woelfle-Erskine] Critical and Imaginative Restoration Ecologies class from Fall 2019 was instrumental in challenged my beliefs on nature and nonhumans, and was a big reason that I completely changed my thesis to one of conserving sea otters that was rooted in a colonialist-worldview to one where I am trying to decolonize my research as best I can being that I am non-Indigenous.

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

Reo & Ogden’s “Anishnaabe Aki: an indigenous perspective on the global threat of invasive species” which I first read in Cleo’s seminar was a huge lightbulb moment for me where I realized how narrow-minded and colonial my beliefs around nature and wilderness were. For my thesis I’m currently reading Dr. Charlotte Coté’s (a professor at AIS who is on my committee and is a classmate of mine for my FLAS fellowship) book “Spirit of our Whaling Ancestors” and its really incredible and really challenges Euro-centric conservation narratives.

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

A woman is walking on a fenced boardwalk on the side of a steep hillside. The woman is walking away, but has turned her upper body back to look at the photographer.
Photo provided.
Lindsey was lucky to receive funding as an undergrad to complete ethnography research at the Vancouver Aquarium.

I cannot wait in the post-COVID world to visit Vancouver Island where my partners and Nuu-chah-nulth classmates live! After learning about it for almost a year now, I am very eager to visit once its safe to!

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

I would love to work at an NGO, non-profit, or Tribal Government on either working with dominant agencies at Indigenizing approaches to conservation, or helping to implement policies and management tools that are founded upon Indigenous-systems of knowledge. For centuries our management of nature has not only not worked very well, but also excludes and undermines any other knowledge and ontological systems that are not Euro-centric. Its obvious that our currents management systems are exclusionary and racist, and frankly are not working well at preserving the natural environment and its nonhuman inhabitants. I would love to work at a place where solutions to these issues are being collaboratively developed and implemented!