If you had told me I would have eventually become a science communicator, I would’ve been absolutely shocked. It’s not because I lack the skills, but rather, it’s just not a role I ever saw myself in.
The Fins United Initiative (TFUI) has humble beginnings: it all started with a book. I was an undergraduate marine biology student who wanted to do more around her community of Sarasota, Florida. Going through my marine laboratory’s library, I noticed there was no book about the sharks, skates, and rays of Sarasota Bay. I reached out to my then-adviser to see if I could create such a book and she gave me her blessings. I spent weeks researching, drawing, formatting and finally was able to self publish the guide that now proudly sits in New College of Florida’s library.
I wasn’t satisfied, though. Realizing how little the community knew about these predators in their own backyard, and that many never visit Mote Marine Laboratory (a favorite aquarium of mine to this day), I decided to take matters in my own hands, and reached out to an advisor and told her my plan to visit science classes during their environmental science sections, and discuss the roles sharks play in the ocean. She was a marine educator herself, and helped me network with local teachers. Intrigued, they booked me in, and I was soon putting together a PowerPoint that I would hope be enjoyed by all.
I was new to this and, to put it bluntly, I had no idea what I was doing and had five different classes in my first week. The first class I invited a scientist to talk via Skype to the class during some of my presentation time, but the students weren’t as engaged; I opted for props, personal stories, and interactive engagement instead. I coined the name “Sarasota Fins” for the little program, and made a website to direct teachers to. I added a blog and started showcasing different sharks around Sarasota and worldwide. During my college breaks I would return to Orlando, and my old teachers were keen on having me come present. Those teachers passed me on to their friends out-of-state and before I was six months into this endeavor I was doing Skype calls into classrooms!
Sarasota Fins grew, and when I moved to New Zealand for my MSc, I rebranded to the more globally minded The Fins United Initiative which focused on more diverse Chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras).
My science career is now no longer just academic; I collaborate and meet with policy makers, non-profit organizations, and other educational outreach programs. This little niche I’ve created for myself isn’t new (there are other shark education and conservation programs I share a platform with), but TFUI is unique in that it’s mostly run by young adults and recent college graduates—many of whom are female!
This is a long-winded way to say “Hello!” My name is Melissa C. Marquez, founder of TFUI, and I’m happy to be joining the FemSTEM team and helping young women climb the leadership ladder. By collaborating with FemSTEM, I hope this “STEM Saturdays” series will assist in preparing young women for the STEM workforce by sharing what has and has not worked for me and several women colleagues. This series aims to be interactive, by asking what you want help with, too!
I’m excited to embark on this journey!