Women of Birch Aquarium

Meet some of the incredible women of Birch Aquarium!

A day-to-day that involves caring for baby seahorses, coordinating a team of SCUBA divers, photographing a penguin parade, teaching students about creatures of the intertidal zone, creating new exhibits for the public to see, and so much more — all of these incredible feats are performed by women who work at Birch Aquarium! Before Women’s History Month comes to a close, we wanted to celebrate and recognize these inspiring women!

We’re so excited to introduce you to just a few of the MANY incredible women on our staff that use their work to inform the public about marine science and conservation! Let’s dive in and learn about their favorite parts of the job and advice for others seeking similar career paths.

Alaine — Youth Programs Coordinator

What do you do at Birch Aquarium?

As the Youth Programs Coordinator, I work with our amazing Education Team to create and deliver annual Summer and Winter Camps, as well as after school programs for K-8 students in San Diego.

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love seeing our programs come to life when kids attend our camps. An incredible amount of time and energy go into making Summer and Winter Camp happen — the excitement these kids show makes all the difference! I’ve seen some campers come from all over the country and some return for multiple years — knowing that we are helping kids form long-lasting memories is so rewarding!

How did you become interested in your current career/field?

I’ve been fascinated with marine science since elementary school and took any opportunity I had to spend time by the ocean. In high school, I began volunteering at Birch Aquarium’s Tide Pool Plaza and realized how much I enjoyed teaching others about marine creatures. Fast forward a decade, and I’m back at Birch Aquarium creating educational programs that I would’ve loved as a kid!

Who is one female role model in your life or career you look up to?

Sylvia Earle is a huge career inspiration to me. She paved the way for women in marine science and, even in her 80s, continues to be an unwavering advocate for the ocean.

What advice do you have for young girls or women that want to pursue a career similar to yours?

Get involved with as much as you can, as early as you can. That could be volunteering at your local zoo or aquarium, spending time in your area’s waterways, or learning more about your favorite animals. Marine science is a very broad field, so keep your mind open and see what calls to you!

What’s your favorite animal at Birch Aquarium?

I love watching our Garibaldi and their huge personalities — especially the juveniles with their bright blue spots!

Melissa — Assistant Dive Safety Officer and Senior Aquarist

What do you do at Birch Aquarium?

I am the Aquarium Assistant Dive Safety Officer as well as a Senior Aquarist. I’m in charge of making sure that all diving that happens at Birch is safe as well as collecting for our largest and smallest exhibits — the Giant Kelp Forest and Nursery!

What is your favorite part of the job?

Scuba diving is my favorite part. Either in our own exhibits feeding and cleaning or out in the ocean observing and collecting.

How did you become interested in your current career/field?

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid and went to space camp to start living my dream. There I learned about some of my strengths and weaknesses and realized that instead of studying the sky above I really wanted to learn about and study what was under the water below.

Who is one female role model in your life or career you look up to?

My grandmother is my biggest female role model. She has lived such a full life with grace, beauty, knowledge and a level head. She is always dependable and to this day has an unbreakable work ethic. I hope that I can grow in her light and shine for others in ways she has always shined for me!

What advice do you have for young girls or women that want to pursue a career similar to yours?

My advice to those interested in a career in this field is get as much experience as you can. When an opportunity presents itself, speak up, don’t let things pass you by because you weren’t heard. Stand up and let the world know what you can do and don’t be afraid to make a mistake and learn from it. Reach out for the opportunities you do see as they may not be right on your path and be flexible as best you can.

What’s your favorite animal at Birch Aquarium?

Octopus … ALL OF THEM!!!!

Tina — Senior Artist

What do you do at Birch Aquarium?

I am a Senior Artist and I work in the Exhibits department. I design, source, and fabricate parts of the exhibits at the aquarium!

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love the problem solving of how to present things to the public as well as the making of a variety of the exhibit elements.

How did you become interested in your current career/field?

Growing up, I was always a very creative kid that was artistically inclined and skilled at making things. I entered UCSD as an undecided science major, but changed it halfway through college to art because at the time it was something that was “easier” at that time. I started working at the aquarium as a student employee in our gift shop, but after a quarter landed a different student job in the exhibits department. A full time position in the exhibits department opened as I was graduating so I applied and was hired. So in a sense, I am not sure if I was interested in my field, but luckily enough I seemed to have fallen into my field but found a great fit. I’ve been at the aquarium for 21+ years now, and I still learn things every day!

Who is one female role model in your life or career you look up to?

My Mom of course! Growing up, my mom worked out of the house as a computer programmer and her hard work and diligence showed me a career was a thing to aspire to.

What advice do you have for young girls or women that want to pursue a career similar to yours?

Don’t be afraid to try the things that interest you, even though it might not seem like it’s the logical thing to pursue at the moment. Make mistakes, hone your current skills, collect new skills along the way and have fun with it!

What’s your favorite animal at Birch Aquarium?

Hard to decide … but I have a soft spot for the octopus!

Amy — Aquarist

What do you do at Birch Aquarium?

I am the syngnathid (seahorse) specialist and primary caretaker of our Loggerhead Sea Turtle here at Birch Aquarium — I also fill in and help out wherever is needed in the husbandry department!

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love the adventure of diving and how creativity mingles with biology when I design habitats for exhibits.

How did you become interested in your current career/field?

My older brother is very into nature and was tasked with watching over me fairly often growing up. He would take me to local ponds and teach me all about the turtles, snakes, toads, and countless other animals that lived there. He shaped my interest in the environment.

Once I was old enough, I began volunteering for veterinary offices, animal shelters, naturalists at our local state parks, stables, and finally was a teen volunteer with our local zoo. I loved the zoo and I loved the positive impact the keepers made on not just the animals under their care, but also conservation projects, research, and environmental education.

Who is one female role model in your life or career you look up to?

I look up to my mom. She has the biggest heart and constantly reinforced the belief that I can do anything. I have no doubt that I am where and who I am today because of her love. I also look up to every woman I’ve had the privilege of working alongside — their strength, will, compassion, and intelligence has taught me something every single day of my career.

What advice do you have for young girls or women that want to pursue a career similar to yours?

Try to get experience as soon as you can, anywhere you can. Network network network! Find someone in the position you’d like to be in and ask them to be a mentor; interview them, work for them, learn from them. Never tell yourself “no”. Any time you’re thinking you can’t, just go for it. The first few years of breaking into this field are grueling but you’re tough, you’re smart, you’ve totally got this!

What’s your favorite animal at Birch Aquarium?

It’s so hard to choose but I think my favorite is our Loggerhead Sea Turtle — I’ve worked with her for almost 4 years now and she’s still teaching me new things! I also adore a pair of Yasha Gobies —  they’re very shy and rarely come out, but when they do their coloration and patterns are so striking. I always feel lucky to see them!

Jordann — Senior Graphic Designer and Photographer

What do you do at Birch Aquarium?

I am the senior graphic designer, photographer and videographer — I work primarily on the marketing team, but also on the exhibits team and help our spaces come to life! This June I”ll have been at Birch Aquarium for 5 years.

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love pretty much every aspect of my job. From design projects — advertisements, signage and more — to taking photos and videos of our programs and animals that you see on our website, social media, and more! Right now, I am loving getting to spend a lot of time with our Little Blue Penguins behind-the-scenes. About a month ago, I needed to get some underwater photos of them, and I got the opportunity to swim with them — a career highlight to say the least!

How did you become interested in your current career/field?

Looking back, it’s obvious, as I’ve always been obsessed with art — I took every art class possible in high school. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a graphic designer until I was out of college and at my first full time job at a small advertising agency. I was working with a graphic designer on a project and I felt a strong urge to be on the other side of the table — I was mesmerized by what they were doing and were capable of doing to an image or design file. After that, I went back to school and the rest is history! Photography is also a passion of mine — I’ve always loved taking pictures and and remember being on road trips as a kid framing scenes with my hands. I’m so proud of the imagery I’ve captured at Birch Aquarium and hope our guests really get a feel for the incredible animals in our care!

Who is one female role model in your life or career you look up to?

Hands down my mom. My mom is resilient, independent and a spitfire — all things I am to a T. My dad unexpectedly passed away when I was 20 years old and she had to pick up the pieces. We didn’t get along well when I was younger —as we’re both pretty stubborn — but after my dad passed, our relationship shifted and I now consider her my best friend.

What advice do you have for young girls or women that want to pursue a career similar to yours?

If you don’t know what you want to be yet, that is okay. But really look at the things you love doing and see if you can make a career out of them. I didn’t realize a job like mine could exist when I was younger. If you know what you love to do then hone your skills. You are never going to know how to do everything, but specialize in a few areas — print, web, illustration, etc — be a good teammate, understand what it means to be communicative and always be reliable.

What’s your favorite animal at Birch Aquarium?

It’s so hard to choose! I cannot go through Hall of Fishes without stopping at the comb jellies and watching them light up! I could stand there for hours. And of course, the Little Blues’ — I cannot wait for our guests to meet them!

Leslee — Associate Curator

What do you do at Birch Aquarium?

I work as as an associate curator in the husbandry department — the husbandry department is responsible for the care of all the live animals at Birch Aquarium. My focus is in the care of the seadragons and seahorses and working towards successfully propagating them at the aquarium!

What is your favorite part of the job?

My favorite part of the job is working with so many diverse aquatic species and learning all about them. Living animals are fascinating, especially ones that live in our precious ocean. I also get a kick out of our guests getting excited about what they see in our exhibits at the aquarium. It gives me great joy when someone is amazed and awed by something they saw or learned about at Birch Aquarium!

Another favorite is being able to meet so many different people that have worked together with the aquarium in many different capacities. I have opportunities to work together with students, volunteers, scientists, and other professionals that share a common love and interest in the ocean. It is so inspiring to learn from those that are passionate about their research or work.

How did you become interested in your current career/field?

My interest in marine biology started while growing up in Hawaii surrounded by the ocean. As a child I loved exploring the beach and tide pools and was curious about all the creatures I saw. This curiosity led me to studying marine biology in college. My college degree helped me to get jobs as a scuba diver, a laboratory technician in oceanographic research, a fisheries technician in aquaculture, to my ultimate goal of working as an aquarist in an aquarium!

Who is one female role model in your life or career you look up to?

Sylvia Earle is a pioneering scientist and advocate to protect our oceans. Her interest in marine biology has led to numerous accomplishments and awards in the study of our earth’s oceans. She excelled in her research in marine biology during a time when there weren’t many women in this field of work. Now at age 86, she continues to support her goal to protect our oceans. Mission Blue, is an organization she launched to support creating marine protected areas that she calls “Hope Spots”. She seeks to protect 30% of our oceans by 2030. Currently only 6% of our oceans are protected.

What advice do you have for young girls or women that want to pursue a career similar to yours?

Seek opportunities to get hands-on experience by volunteering at an aquarium or related organization. Participate in field work or outings to learn about our oceans and the amazing animals that thrive in it. Take classes in marine biology or related fields at school. Be curious and ask questions about whatever interests you!

What’s your favorite animal at Birch Aquarium?

One of my many favorite animals at the aquarium is the Spiny Lumpsucker. It is such a cute little fish with a funny name. It is spiny and lumpy with big round eyes. Its pelvic fins are fused to form a sucker disc on its underside so it can stick to a surface, sort of like a refrigerator magnet! If you haven’t ever seen a spiny lumpsucker, you need to visit the aquarium. You will find it adorable!