Women's History Month: Four Scripps Alumnae in STEM Careers

Q&A with four alumnae who are continuing the mission of Scripps Oceanography in their professional endeavors

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego caught up with four remarkable alumnae who are continuing to make waves with careers in science, policy, consulting, and more. These women are using their Scripps degrees to work on pressing issues ranging from climate change and sustainability to groundwater management and ocean conservation. They have reflected on their time at Scripps to provide sage advice for students and women pursuing careers in science and technology, as well as shed light on the transformative work of their current careers.

Tegan Blaine | PhD ‘05, Climate Sciences 
Senior Climate Change Advisor, Africa Bureau

Portrait of a woman - Tegan Blaine

What are you doing now? 
For many years, I have developed and led a team of technical advisors working on climate change issues for the Bureau of Africa inside the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). My team supports our overseas offices in Africa, which work with governments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. We also help identify and address climate risks inherent in other USAID programming, such as our agriculture or health programs, in order to ensure our programs have impact even with a changing climate. Our overall goal is to help countries develop in greener ways, while also helping them become more resilient to climate change – and improving people's lives in the process.

Do you have advice for current Scripps students? 
Don't be afraid to use your technical skills in non-traditional ways. I didn't know what a career outside of academia looked like, and it took a leap of faith to find the right career path for myself. I currently draw from my multicultural skills (developed as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania), my science skills (thanks to Scripps), and my strategic thinking skills (from a stint at McKinsey Consulting).

What is one thing you learned at Scripps that has stayed with you to the present day?
An emphasis on critical thinking and logical approaches to solving problems. I have hired several PhD scientists over the years, and I tell them that I'm not hiring them for their specific discipline, but instead for their ability to think through problems, to ask the right questions, and to know when to reach out to others for help.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?
My grandmother was an amazing woman. She pursued an MBA in her 40s at a time that many women never had the chance to consider such a degree. She also traveled the world on her own after my grandfather died at 64. I inherited her drive to be involved in issues she was passionate about, as well as her strong interest in and engagement with other cultures.

What words of wisdom do you have for women that want to get into science?
Unluckily, I still see a lot of sexism in science-oriented fields, some which is blatant and a lot which is more subtle and hard to call out. Believe in yourself; ask for the support you need; don't be afraid to speak up. You deserve to be in the room as much as any other person there. It's also ok to expect – and demand – that you can balance a scientific life with other personal interests and/or having a family.

Cody Hooven | MAS '08, Marine Biodiversity and Conservation
Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of San Diego

Portrait of a woman - Cody Hooven

What do you do now?
I'm the Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of San Diego, the 8th largest city in the country. My job is to ensure the City leads on climate action and collectively moves in the right direction. I love that I am able to work across different sectors and can go from discussing renewable energy financing to transit needs for low income communities in the same day. We're taking an inclusive approach that ensures communities and businesses are central to the solutions we implement. I'm proud of our ambitious goals and innovative approach to address climate change, which include moving the city to 100% renewable energy, cleaner and more efficient mobility options, and ultimately becoming a more resilient city.

What advice do you have for current Scripps students? 
Say yes to new opportunities, even if they seem unlikely or outside your focus a bit. There are a lot of ways to contribute, and all are important and respectable, so just dive in and do something. Then if it doesn't suit you, do something else.

What is one thing you learned at Scripps that has stayed with you to the present day?
Science not communicated well is only good to other scientists. If you want to make an impact in another arena like policy, find a way to make it meaningful to others. 

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?
I've been lucky to have found many smart, supportive, creative female role models in my life and career. One example is my late aunt who became a computer programmer in the 70s, started her own business, was very adventurous, and always encouraged me to try new things. She taught my brother the same things, letting us both see that we were equals.

What words of wisdom do you have for women that want to get into science? 
Do it! Proactively find women mentors and men who are supportive of professional women. Know that there is a thing called "imposter syndrome" and then brush it off if you ever feel like you shouldn't be where you are. Intentionally lift other women up. Oh, and ALWAYS negotiate your salary. Always.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson | PhD '11, Marine Biology
Founder and President of Ocean Collectiv

Portrait of a woman - Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

What are you doing now? 
I’m founder and president of Ocean Collectiv, a strategy consulting firm for ocean conservation. We just launched a few months ago, and are particularly excited about building our portfolio in corporate social responsibility and philanthropic advising. Overall, our work aims to build public, corporate, and political support for using the ocean without using it up, and to design conservation that works for communities.

What do you love about your job?
So many things! Above all, I love doing work that feels needed and useful. I love working on a broad range of projects, from designing an ocean data competition for XPRIZE, to developing campaign strategy for Greenpeace, to analyzing the seafood supply chain for WWF, to curating the World Ocean Festival. I love getting to work with incredibly intelligent, funny, and kind women every day – the whole team at Ocean Collectiv is women (a Women’s Month shoutout to all our magnificent founding members!). And I love the flexibility of consulting – I work from my family farm for a week once a month.

Do you have advice for current Scripps students? 
Practice science communication as much as you can – writing, public speaking, social media. Most scientific writing is far more obtuse than it needs to be. Scientists compellingly explaining their research helps ensure there is continued public support for research as a valuable pursuit, adequate funding for future research, and policy that incorporates scientific findings.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?
Dr. Nancy Knowlton! Nancy’s work to launch the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps, create the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, and build a movement around what’s working in conservation (#OceanOptimism) has deeply inspired me. She has incredible vision and then works hard and creatively to make it real.

What words of wisdom do you have for women that want to get into science? 
Do it. Get into science. You will find advisors, colleagues, mentors, friends happy to support you.

Jill Weinberger | PhD '05, Earth Sciences
Hydrogeologist at Dudek

Portrait of a woman - Jill Weinberger

What are you doing now?
I am a hydrogeologist working at Dudek, an environmental consulting firm headquartered in Encinitas. The bulk of what I do these days involves helping local government agencies implement the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Acts, a group of laws that was passed in 2014 in response to California’s ongoing drought. I am part of a team that is writing the first Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for several of California’s groundwater basins. We are hoping that these plans will help preserve our groundwater resources for future generations of Californians.

What do you love about your job? 
I love the constant challenge of the job. I never come into work knowing exactly what the day will bring, and I never get bored. One day I will be in my office analyzing how transpiration from native vegetation impacts groundwater recharge and the next I’m delivering a public workshop on groundwater sustainability.

Do you have advice for current Scripps students?
Enjoy your time as a student. Use it to explore your interests, whether academic or not. Follow leads and opportunities wherever they may take you because you have the time to do it. As you move onward and upward in your career, time will become the most precious of all commodities. “Waste” a little today while you still can, you never know how it may pay off in the future.

Who is one female role model in your life or career who helped show you the way forward?
Virginia Sisson, my undergraduate advisor and metamorphic petrology professor, provided me with tremendous support and encouragement throughout my days in college. Her passion for her work and her commitment to mentoring other women in science impressed me even then. Without Ginny’s guidance and support I doubt I ever would have gone to graduate school.

What words of wisdom do you have for women that want to get into science? 
It’s important to remember what keeps you interested and motivated. There will certainly be difficult times in your career. Keeping in mind the core principles that drive you to do what you do will help you weather those times and come out the other side. And keeping a few Scripps alumni on speed dial always helps too!

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.

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