Welcome to Currents: Meet the Editors

Editor’s note: As the academic year starts, the new Currents executive board would like to introduce ourselves to you! The four of us have all put in time this past summer to create a feature series focusing almost exclusively on the work of BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ people in marine and environmental affairs. For our first piece of the fall quarter, we took turns interviewing each other so you can get to know us and read about what we’re hoping to accomplish through Currents. Below is the new proposed mission statement we’ve crafted for Currents, which will be reviewed by faculty at their next meeting. It draws heavily from the previous mission statement and our discussions as a board. Read the proposed statement and get to know us through the Q&As below! We’re looking forward to an exciting year and hope you’ll come along for the ride with us.


Mission Statement

Currents is a blog run by students at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs (SMEA). Currents is dedicated to sharing timely and relevant discussions of pressing environmental issues, particularly, but not limited to, marine and coastal systems and the interactions between humans and nature. We aim to inform and inspire the public while recognizing the complex nature of the issues we cover, and to challenge our own and others’ views by advancing anti-racist and anti-colonial modes of thinking within our field. We place value on being accessible to the broader public. We commit to creating an inclusive space that uplifts the perspectives of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people in our field, and in particular people who do their work locally, with the long-term aim of building deeper relationships between SMEA and the wider community.


Q&A with Abby Keller, Managing Editor

by Sam Klein

Before SMEA, Abby conducted field work in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which sparked her interest in the intersection between humans, policy, and the marine environment. Photo credit: Abby Keller

What are you looking forward to this quarter?

I’m excited for more structure and human interaction, even if it is only virtual. I am taking Climate Change Governance with our SMEA director, Nives Dolšak, and multivariate statistics with SAFS professor, Julian Olden. I am looking forward to seeing classmates and learning again.

Why did you want to get involved with Currents? What is your science communication philosophy?

I have always really loved writing. I have a natural science background, but I often enjoy writing and talking about science more than actually doing it. I wanted to get more involved with the Currents blog because when I tell people I study marine affairs, I can’t always explain what that means. Writing for and editing Currents is a great way for me to explore and describe this field.  I especially like Currents because the writers find interesting topics and tackle them using multiple perspectives.

Science communication seems like a bit of a buzzword these days, but to me it means making complex and technical subjects accessible and interesting to the general public.

 What have you liked most about your time at SMEA so far?

I have enjoyed getting to know my classmates at SMEA the most. We share a general interest in the marine environment, but have such different backgrounds, so I am constantly learning from them. In the future I will have friends who work for diverse organizations like the Nature Conservancy, NOAA, Sea Grant, or the International Pacific Halibut Commission, for example. I am excited to see what everyone will do.

Have you done anything fun this summer?

I have been mostly working in a lab called the Center for Environmental Genomics, and it’s been under a COVID-19 lockdown situation with strict access rules. Going there is kind of thrilling, in a way! The lab is on the Montlake Cut, really close to the SMEA building, and has nice big windows so I watch the boats go by as I work. I am working on an assay to detect invasive green crabs using their environmental DNA (eDNA) from the traces they leave behind in the water. Day to day, I am optimizing the protocol which requires me to move small amounts of liquid from one tube to another. I have also been going on lots of bike adventures; my favorite is biking around Mercer Island.

Abby and Dr. Ryan Kelly sampling water to optimize strategies for detecting trace DNA from the invasive European Green Crab. Photo credit: Emily Grason.

Q&A with Sam Klein, Creative Director

by Lindsey Popken

What brought you to SMEA?

I’ve always been interested in ecology, especially marine and coastal ecology, particularly because I was living in Hong Kong and that environment is really important to me. I could see a lot of resource development issues along the coast. I had always been approaching these issues from the ecology/biology side of things, and I wanted to get a policy background and better understand the human dimensions of ecology. My dad attended SMEA back when it was called the Institute for Marine Studies, and my best friend Sallie [Currents’ former Managing Editor] also had come to SMEA.

July 2020: Sam Klein observing fish on the floating wetland “Biobarges” on the Duwamish River. Photo credit: Malise Yun.

Why Currents?

I’ve always been interested in writing, especially creative writing. Currents writes about current events, hence its name, but I think it was a really great way to explain my reactions and feelings on what was going on in the world, to process it all. Also, it’s nice to be able to produce a good written project. As for jumping on the board, it’s a way for me to be involved in a greater capacity.

What have you been up to this summer?

I’ve been monitoring floating wetlands on the Duwamish River, and it has really highlighted how important urban rivers and coastal ecosystems are to me. I feel like they are quite forgotten by ecologists and biologists, in that they aren’t considered “real nature.” Seeing so many people from the community use the river has made me feel really good. Part of the project has been working with community scientists, mostly young people, and bringing them out to the wetlands and teaching them how to monitor fish species, identify plants, etc. This was a really good way to share a research project with the community and to share those skills.

I have been writing a short paper about inclusion in restoration work. Oftentimes, people who want to have a more justice-minded framework will include people from the community. But some people, like those who are unhoused, don’t get included in restoration work. There is also this idea in restoration that degraded urban landscapes are kind of a wasteland, but there are actually people that live and have a community there. After SMEA, I am really interested in working with a community organization, or doing community outreach and environmental justice work.

What is something fun you did this summer?

I adopted a kitten and named him Zuko. We have been taking him on bike rides in a cat backpack.

July 2020: Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, Ayana Harscoet, performing fish observations on the Duwamish River in Tukwila, Washington. Photo credit: Sam Klein.

Q&A with James Lee, Editor-in-Chief

by Abby Keller

Why did you come to SMEA?

I’d been working in wetland ecosystems for a couple years, and I was really enjoying the field work and the research but also wondering when I would connect with people. You’re just out there on your own or with your team. Maybe you’re in a place where a member of the public would walk by, and if they asked questions, we could tell them about the project. But otherwise, it felt like nobody in the community knew what was happening. Did they actually know restoration work was taking place? Was it something they wanted? Those questions brought me to SMEA.

September 2017 (San Pablo Bay, CA): James collecting data for the Boyer Lab at the Sears Point Wetland Restoration Project. Photo credit: Margot Buchbinder.

What is the best SMEA class you’ve taken?

That’s a really hard question. I would choose Griff’s winter class on Indigenous approaches to climate change adaptation. I had minimal social science training before SMEA. As a restoration practitioner from California, I didn’t know much about the co-management paradigms that exist in Washington or the importance of traditional knowledges and treaty rights, so that was what I was most excited to learn about. It was a great experience to hear from a diverse range of speakers and to spend a day learning and listening at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

When is science communication effective and ineffective?

Knowing your audience is important. Some audiences are going to be excited to hear about certain subjects and not others. Not all audiences are going to be comfortable with academic jargon. You shouldn’t be afraid to challenge your audience, but you should also have them in mind at every step of your writing process, and science communication isn’t successful when you’re not doing that.

So excited you’re the new Editor-in-Chief! What would you like to see out of Currents this year?

Thanks! I would like to see more of what we’ve started with our summer series, where we’ve begun connecting with people outside of our immediate circle. That’s been really fun. I love and admire the students, postdocs, and faculty in SMEA, but we need to diversify the perspectives we’re listening to by branching out into the community and broadening our network, particularly with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people working in marine and environmental affairs. Science and science communication need more of that kind of networking. For the rest of this year, I would like to see us continue doing that, and particularly continue that with local groups in the Seattle area. For example, I was really happy you were able to talk to Nancy Huizar and Tanika Thompson Bird from Got Green, which does great work here in Seattle.

Who is your favorite science writer, communicator, or photographer?

Carl Sagan. He had a strong background in the “dry” world of physics, but he could go on talk shows and make people laugh and get them interested in science. He worked with his wife, artist Linda Salzman, to assemble drawings, symbols, music, and voice recordings of humans and non-human animals that would go out with the Pioneer and Voyager spacecrafts. Because he took the time to think in terms of communication, symbols, and art, he made the public that much more invested in these endeavors.

March 7, 2020 (Duwamish Longhouse): Clockwise from upper left: Grand fir, Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar from a native plants workshop hosted by the Duwamish Tribe shortly before the COVID-19 lockdown in King County. Photo credit: James Lee.

Carl was also a staunch opponent of nuclear power and weapons, and he was arrested protesting at the Nevada Test Site. He wrote about the need to legalize marijuana. James Pollack, his Ph.D. student at Harvard [and long-time colleague], was openly gay, and when James’s lover had trouble obtaining healthcare at the university, Carl stood up for him. Even now, video clips of Carl’s thoughts on science and society regularly go viral! Like all idols, Carl was flawed, but he was an excellent example of someone skilled at bridging the divide between academia and the wider public.

Have you had any fun summer adventures?

Because of COVID-19 my boyfriend and I haven’t traveled anywhere far, but we have made our walks a nearly daily thing, which has been lots of fun. Having that routine and exploring more of Seattle has been nice because we hadn’t done enough of that since moving into our place last year. It’s also been nice to learn that even though we’ve been stuck together for many months, we’re still not sick of each other!


Q&A with Lindsey Popken, Social Media Manager

by James Lee

What are you hoping for with Currents in the coming year, and what do you want people to get out of it?

Like my colleagues on the board, I want to see us elevating more underrepresented voices not just in the environmental justice realm but in environmental sciences in general. We’re also at a really interesting moment in time, politically and otherwise, and I want to see us really make use of the opportunity we have to bring attention, not only to the topics we might be personally interested in, but also in the entire range of awesome work being done in the marine and environmental fields.

I hope our writers have a good time with Currents too! It can be overwhelming at first to put together a piece, but it’s super rewarding to see your own work get published. I hope our writers enjoy getting experience in science communication and finding their voice in the process.

The fun part about visiting places to conduct qualitative research is that sometimes you get to feed sea otters! Here, Lindsey is pictured at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California feeding Ollie the sea otter. Photo credit: Lindsey Popken.

This might be a tough question, but do you have a favorite class out of the ones you’ve taken so far at SMEA?

I have to pick two! Cleo’s Critical Ecologies class in the fall changed my whole thesis in a really good way. It was the first class to challenge my views on nature and made me realize how settler-colonial they are. I also learned that yes, shifting baselines due to climate change can be depressing and paralyzing, but it’s also a fact that nature and the environment are evolving entities. Once you realize that, things don’t have to feel so overwhelming and you can start thinking about solutions.

Also, Griff’s class on Indigenous approaches to climate change adaptation was great. I loved this class because it openly challenged dominant narratives about climate change and Indigenous peoples, such as the narrative that Indigenous peoples are vulnerable and need our help, when actually they have a lot of internal capacity to address climate change. It was wonderful to be exposed to works by Indigenous scholars and writers as well.

Were you able to have any fun adventures this summer?

I was able to get back home to California to see my family and my family dog Macy, which is always a highlight! I got my first car, too–a very adult purchase! It allowed me to get outside and see more of Washington State. I got in more hikes, which is a great activity to do while maintaining social distancing. I also had my summer language fellowship to keep me occupied, and it was fun to build relationships that way with folks in a whole different country. That relationship-building ended up being really important, because it was nice to have a group of people I could be in community with online when the state of the world wasn’t looking too great.

An image from the Vancouver Aquarium (left), and a photo of Lindsey visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (right). Lindsey was fortunate to have received a travel grant that allowed her to conduct field work in Vancouver, British Columbia on sea otter narratives at the Vancouver Aquarium. Photo credits: Lindsey Popken (left) and Danelle Popken (right).

Is there someone you view as a role model when it comes to science communication? And if so, why them?

I feel like I may not be able to properly answer this since I am a social scientist, and I shy away from “#SciComm” as I tend to think of it as a natural science thing! Communication is already a part of what social scientists do, so science communication as most people see it is not my forte.

However, I really admire Dr. Anne Salomon of Simon Fraser University in Canada! She’s a biologist who’s branched out into the world of social science and she’s one of my idols in the field. I thought of her because lately she’s been quoted in news stories on the topic of sea otter conservation that are getting a lot of attention. One of her quotes that stuck with me was in a piece where someone argued that sea otter conservation could bring tourism money into communities. Her response was, “You can’t eat dollar bills.” She’s a great example of someone who is a natural scientist in training but understands the importance of and the need to talk about the human dimensions of ecological research. To me, she practices true allyship in that she makes her work available to communities so that they can use it to make their own decisions and empower themselves.