Much has been written about the relatively low numbers of women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Here at the Aquarium of the Pacific we have female staff members who are making strides in STEM every single day. A handful of these admirable women share their stories and how STEM plays into their daily work and life as a whole.
Water Quality Manager
STEM as a Kid
Science fairs were always my favorite part of the school year. One year I wanted to monitor differences in bacteria levels in the LA River before rain and after rain. So, my dad would drop me off and I would go out on a Sea-Doo to collect samples from different areas. I’d store the samples in my family’s fridge until I could take them to Santa Monica Baykeeper and they ran them using a membrane filtration. Funnily enough, I did a project here at the Aquarium where I was collecting samples from the LA River. Sometimes everything comes full circle!
STEM in Everyday Work
Obviously a lot of my work is based in science, but my job marries most of the STEM subjects together. Tech-wise, we have to calibrate the lab instruments and validate that they are operating properly so we know that results are correct. There is a small amount of math that mainly relates to dilution, such as figuring out how to make a 100 parts per million (ppm) solution into a 10 ppm solution.
Being a Woman in STEM
There were a lot of women in my lower-division science classes at college. But as I moved into upper level classes, I was often one of the only females in the lab. However, it wasn’t really a big deal because I’ve always felt that science is a great equalizer. It’s not so much about your gender but the ideas you have and your ability to demonstrate your analysis and work.
STEM Career Achievement
Through my involvement with Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators, I recently helped write a field guide that serves as a manual for water chemistry and life support. It provides guidelines and benchmarks that will give colleagues the support they need to conduct their jobs safely. It makes me proud that I can use my knowledge and influence to have a positive effect on the entire industry.
Sandy Trautwein, Ph.D.
Curator of Fish and Invertebrates
Proud STEM Moment
An important trend among major aquariums is that we’re increasingly known for implementing environmental conservation efforts that protect marine ecosystems and species. The Aquarium of the Pacific is truly becoming a leader in this regard with our white abalone program, SECORE partnership, Guam Kingfisher conservation, and all the wonderful things we do. It’s important work, and I’m proud that I can be part of this bigger effort for our industry.
STEM in Everyday Work
We are responsible for giving the best care possible for our animals by providing whatever key elements they need to survive. This calls on STEM knowledge, including scientific research to understand the animals’ environment, technological knowledge of protein skimmers, chambers, and other equipment, engineering skills that help us build the exhibits, and math that allows us to calculate how much oxygen or nutrients each animal needs. That’s why it helps to have a well-rounded approach to the STEM topics when you’re considering a job as an aquarist.
STEM Career Highlight
For my Ph.D., I worked on the taxonomy of crabs that live symbiotically with a specific type of coral. While I was visiting different parts of the Pacific Ocean looking for these crabs, I ended up discovering a new species. It was very exciting to get the opportunity to describe these four new species and give them their official scientific names. I chose to name each species based on its description, so Tetralia brunalineata for example, means brown stripes in Latin and describes the brown lines these crabs have on their legs.
Being a Woman in STEM
I never stopped to think that I was a woman and things would be tough for me in my field. Even when I first started my career at the National Aquarium and I was only one of two women in the department, it didn’t really faze me. Now it seems like the tides have changed and I’m working with a team that’s mainly women.
Director, Pacific Visions & Architecture
STEM and the Arts
As an architect working on new additions to the Aquarium, including the Pacific Visions expansion, my job isn’t only a mash up of all of the STEM topics, but includes art, as well. Depending on the day, I may focus on engineering while looking at structural drawings or mathematics while calculating the carbon footprint of the building. There is also the artistic side of my job, where I have to consider the design and aesthetics of the building and how it makes a statement about what we’re doing inside the building.
Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Women
My six-year-old daughter loves learning, and I have to admit that I have STEM dreams for her. I tell her about the sciences and how we build things. She’s shown an interest and I make sure to encourage her every step of the way.
High School and STEM
There were a few girls in my introductory physics class in high school. However, once I graduated to the higher level, I was the only girl in a class full of boys. My teacher was great about helping me along the way, just as he would the male students. He never gave me special attention, but always made sure that I was supported. Being successful in that class assured me that architecture was the path for me and gave me the confidence to pursue architecture as a career.
STEM in Everyday Work
Mathematics is extra important in the work we do at the Aquarium’s Molina Animal Care Center. We have a huge variety of animals here at the Aquarium, and they fluctuate a lot in size. It is important to know how to calculate proper doses for each animal we treat and how to perform accurate dilutions. Of course, it’s important for us to know about biology, ecology, and animal behavior to be able to make sure each species is healthy and that we are treating them effectively.
STEM Career Yesterday and Today
In a prior job, I was a radiology technician, which involved holding animals during ultrasound exams and running the CT scanner at a local hospital. While I was there, we got a new CT machine that was pretty advanced, and I became one of the main people to go to if anyone had questions about it. Because of my connection there, we’ve been able to take some of our Aquarium animals to the hospital for CT scans so that we can take a closer look at their conditions. I continue to use my radiology skills in my current job, helping with x-rays and ultrasounds. It’s been really cool to merge my love for radiology and my love for aquatic animals.
Female STEM Mentors
After college, I took a four-month internship at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro. It was inspiring for me to see a woman as the lead veterinarian of a care center, and she actually encouraged me to pursue a career as a veterinary technician. Since then, I have worked with numerous smart, strong female veterinarians and technicians who are innovative in the field and have taught me a great deal.
Stay tuned for more Aquarium women in STEM interviews in part two coming early next month.