Photo: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

Scripps Celebrates Women’s History Month

A Women’s History Month-inspired Q&A featuring several staff members at Scripps

Celebrated throughout March, Women’s History Month is an opportunity to recognize the many contributions of women in history, culture, society, and science.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is made stronger by women. From our founder Ellen Browning Scripps to our current Director Margaret Leinen, the trailblazing women of Scripps have been an important part of our community for the past 117 years, despite facing many challenges along the way.

Scripps has become a world-class organization thanks to the efforts of these women, including researchers and students, and notably, the staff members who have kept everything running smoothly in the background.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, we interviewed several women staff members about their work at Scripps, what this month means to them, and more. Read the Q&A below to learn how these women are doing vital yet understated work that contributes to the success of our university.

UC San Diego is also celebrating women this month with several “Women’s Herstory Month” events focused around the theme Feminist Transformations.” Visit https://women.ucsd.edu/ to learn more.

 

Raquel Benguiat, Director of Development, Marine Sciences

A smiling woman near a pier


What is your role at Scripps Oceanography? 

In January 2013, I joined UC San Diego as part of the Corporate and Foundation Relations team. After a couple of years, I had the opportunity to join a small team working directly with the Chancellor to recruit the $2 billion Campaign for UC San Diego Cabinet Leadership. Currently, and for the last four years, I have been Director of Development for Marine Sciences at Scripps Oceanography. Within this role, I have the privilege to represent our campus’ needs and share our impact with donors and prospects locally, regionally and nationally. Most recently, I have been meeting and working closely with several Scripps family members.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

The year I was born, the commemoration of “Women’s History Week” began, and while it is wonderful that it has now been extended to an annual declared month, I believe we must highlight and honor the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society, throughout the entire year, every year. There are so many of them!

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?

While Golda Meir was not in my life, and she passed away 9 days after I was born, I learned about her and her legacy early in my life. Golda is an inspiration to me not only because she was an incredibly effective and committed fundraiser, but also because she was a woman who was utterly true to herself. Early on, she identified her purpose in life and courageously and unapologetically pursued it. Nowadays, Golda is criticized for not focusing her power and influence on women’s issues during her time. However, I think that she showed and continues to show the way to many women around the world by inspiring us with her example.

What has been the best career advice you received, and how do you work to implement that at Scripps?

Throughout my career, I had heard many times about “imposter syndrome” and have been told how we need to “fake it, until we make it.” That advice never sat well with me. A few years ago, a colleague gave me better advice. She said, “If you don’t know what to do or what to say, don’t do or say anything.” We then talked about the preconceived notion of how we need to “have all the answers” and the pressure of “always knowing what to do.” I loved this new approach of being comfortable enough to create a space to gather my thoughts or the information necessary to have the best approach with our faculty and donors on behalf of Scripps Oceanography.

Your favorite part of being a staff member at Scripps is...

Being part of a community of like-minded and committed people who care deeply about our planet. Plus, the beautiful location with such privileged sights is not too bad.

 

Chris Castillo, Federal Government Relations

A smiling woman with blonde hair and a blue shirt


What is your role at Scripps Oceanography?
I've worked at Scripps for six years handling federal government relations in the Director's Office. I advocate for Scripps research, educational, and infrastructure programs with the federal governmentprimarily the U.S. Congress. 

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

This quote by Malala Yousafzai: “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard...we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” I would not have been afforded many of the career opportunities I've had without the women who forged the path before me; and a reminder to do our part to continue to pave the way for all who identify as women still fighting to be heard.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward? 

It truly takes a village. I struggle to name just one, because I wouldn't be where I am today without my mom and my sisters...nor several women bosses who have given me a chance and shown me the way.

What has been the best career advice you received, and how do you work to implement that at Scripps? 

Stay open and always try to get to yes. It's allowed me many great opportunities and experiences in life and in my career. In the professional world, it's very easy to be told no. We can achieve so much by working toward a place of yes.  

Your favorite part of being a staff member at Scripps is...

The community. It's a big, happy, inspirational family and the people of Scripps make it so easy to do my job and show up ready to work every day.
 

Darlene Garza, Student Services Advisor

A smiling woman with dark brown hair and a gray shirt


What is your role at Scripps Oceanography?

I have been at UC San Diego a little over two years and I am a Student Services Advisor for our Scripps and Environmental Systems undergraduate majors. On a daily basis I answer questions from our students in regards to their major requirements, research interests, academic goals and anything else they may need help with. I also represent our department at events for undergraduate students and right now I am working on planning the department’s participation in Virtual Triton Day and Virtual Transfer Triton Day.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

To me it means taking time to think about and recognize the way women have contributed to all that we have today. When I reflect on the women in my personal and professional life, I can’t help but be thankful for the paths they have created for myself and future generations.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?

My mom. She has always been a very hard worker and placed an importance on education. As a result getting my bachelor’s and then master’s was in large part thanks to her setting the example for me. She has also had a few different career paths in her life and growing up seeing that gave me the courage to pursue a career change to higher education which I am very glad that I did since I enjoy what I do.

What has been the best career advice you received, and how do you work to implement that at Scripps?

That there is hardly ever a straight line from point A to point B for what you want to accomplish. I try to remind students that it’s OK to be a bit, or even a lot, undecided as an undergrad; all the experiences along the way will help you on your way to your ultimate goal, or help you adjust your goal. So I see myself as being here to help them with whatever goals they may have as a student and can assist in adjusting them as well.

Your favorite part of being a staff member at Scripps is... 

The students! Having been here a few years now I enjoy seeing the undergraduate students I work with achieve their goals and earn their degrees.
 

Astrid Hsu, Staff Research Associate

A smiling woman in a baseball cap stands in front of a large plant with pink flowers


What is your role at Scripps Oceanography?

As a researcher, I have been at Scripps for almost 5 years. I first encountered Scripps as an undergraduate student in 2013 looking to learn more about marine biology. Now, I am working at both the Marine Biology Research Division (MBRD) and the Climate, Atmospheric Sciences, and Physical Oceanography (CASPO) division. My work with MBRD at the Aburto Lab involves studying mangroves, analyzing marine protected areas, and engaging with local communities to develop holistic conservation solutions. At CASPO, I work with the Ramanathan Lab developing curricula regarding interdisciplinary climate change solutions and analyzing climate models.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

To me, Women’s History Month means celebrating the many varied contributions that women have made to society—most which were not recognized when these acts occurred. Women’s History Month is a time when we can spotlight hidden figures who have played an outsized but underrecognized role in progressing humanity.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?

I have been incredibly lucky to have many female role models in my life who guided me forward. My mother is one such wonderfully talented woman whom I am blessed with to have in my life. She taught me to be curious and to seek knowledge, something that she herself exemplified—she received her doctorate in her 60s!

What has been the best career advice you received, and how do you work to implement that at Scripps?

One of the best pieces of career advice (or prompts) that I have received is, “And then what?” These three words have shaped my ability to consider the possibilities, to identify how I use my efforts, and to question the path of my projects and roles. At Scripps, “And then what?” has led me to develop long-term solutions in conservation and education.

Your favorite part of being a staff member at Scripps is…

All the astonishingly brilliant minds at Scripps/UC San Diego that I get to learn from and collaborate with! And lunchtime pier swims.

 

Melissa Miller, Staff Research Associate

A woman in a hard hat and red shirt stands on a boat


What is your role at Scripps Oceanography?

I have worked at UC San Diego since graduation in 2003. I transferred to Scripps in 2009 after volunteering on a research cruise and realizing that I wanted to be a sea-going scientist for a living. I work for the Oceanographic Data Facility doing chemical analysis of seawater samples and have crossed every ocean and been to the North Pole. I have been on over 40 research cruises, including most of the science verification trips for R/V Sally Ride when the ship was brand new.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

There is so much history at a place like Scripps, but it's easy to gloss over the discrimination and hard times that women have faced during that period. It's important to learn about and talk about the fact that women were part of this institution from the beginning, showing up to do their science and work towards the common goal. I love to see passionate women highlighted for their hard work and perseverance.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?

Sally Ride is a great role model, following her passion in physics, applying for the first class of female astronauts, working hard, dealing with the attention that being the first American woman in space came with, and then bringing STEM education to the masses after she retired. What an amazing life and career.

What has been the best career advice you received, and how do you work to implement that at Scripps?

My dad told me when I got my first job as a teenager that I could set myself apart simply by showing up and having a good attitude. To ask, "How can I help?" goes a long way in a job. I made it a habit, though sometimes it takes a bit more effort than other days. Especially at sea when there's no weekends or holidays, but I think my co-workers notice and appreciate my helpful attitude day after day.

Your favorite part of being a staff member at Scripps is…

Working so close to the ocean. It's something I've known about myself since I was very little, I just love being near the Pacific. So even on tough days, seeing it out the window or taking a quick walk to the cliffs is really calming. Being near the amazing science going on, as well as other people passionate about the ocean, are also great perks.

 

Debi Pollard, Research Administrator

A smiling woman with short dark hair


What is your role at Scripps Oceanography? 

I’ve been at UC San Diego for 35 yearsall at Scripps. I started in the Graduate Department in 1986, moved to what is now CASPO in 1994, and then came to the Marine Physical Laboratory in 2000 where I have been ever since. I am a Research Admin and my responsibilities include pre- and post award administration. I’m also an Enterprise Systems Renewal Program (ESR) Subject Matter Expert (SME).

Another one of my responsibilities for over 15 years as fund manager for the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS), overseeing the financial administration for Scripps researchers and other UC campuses and universities here in California. It’s a valuable program and we’re doing incredible research.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

It’s a celebration of not only our accomplishments as women, but also our spirit and drive to be the best at who we are.

Working in the Scripps Graduate Office, I had the opportunity to see young women come here as graduate students and go on to teach or become researchers. It’s been pretty amazing to watch them still today. I have so much respect for them and how they have made a difference in the world of research.

I worked in Nierenberg Hall when Sally Ride was the director of Cal Space. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. I was overwhelmed by her accomplishments as the first American woman astronaut to go into space. She paved the way for so many other women to pursue their dreams as an astronaut or physicist.

I could go on. But I think it’s important to remember that while we all may not become a renowned scientist or make a name in history, we’re still significant and can make a difference. I’ve heard some say, “I’m just a fund/financial manager” or “I just work in the lab,” but we’re so much more than that. As a fund manager I’ve had the opportunity to assist professors and researchers with their proposals to agencies and when it’s funded, work closely with them, giving them the financial guidance they depend on. We have women military veterans here who do outstanding work in the labs, and so many others who are incredible leaders. Seeing first hand the research that we are doing here at Scripps and being a part of that is no small thing.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?

That would definitely be my mom. She always believed in me and by her example, showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to. I’m so grateful that she introduced music to all of us kids when we were young. She saw my potential and encouraged me to use my gifts and talents to do what I love. It’s because of her that I became a singer and musician.

What has been the best career advice you received, and how do you work to implement that at Scripps?

Keep my sense of humor. I have changed departments twice since I first came to Scripps and as my responsibilities changed, I had to learn some very new things as well. Sometimes it seemed overwhelming. But through transitions, deadlines, and challenges of learning new jobs and financial systems, I’ve learned to take a step back, breathe, and laugh whenever I can. It helps when things get a little crazy.

Your favorite part of being a staff member at Scripps is…

All the incredible people I get to work with. We are a true team here. It’s not uncommon for me to contact Scripps Contracts and Grants or another departmentor someone to contact meto discuss or resolve a problem. We make time for each other and that speaks volumes as to why Scripps is so different. People look to us as a model because we know how to work together and we’re efficient. I think it’s one of many reasons why, when people come to Scripps, they never want to go anywhere else.

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