Volunteer, Intern, Employee: One woman's career journey with the Seattle Aquarium

In preparation for our upcoming Ocean Career Series, we’re happy to share with you the story of one of our staff members, Bailey Johnson, who first came to the Aquarium as a youth volunteer and eventually joined our staff. As she transitioned from high school student to young professional, she discovered her passion for marine life and what she wanted in her career, and the Seattle Aquarium was able to be there every step of the way.

Interested in learning more about career paths in the marine and ocean sciences? Join us for our three- part Ocean Career Series, starting January 27! Learn more and register on our website

Joining the Youth Ocean Advocates (YOA) program

“I’ve always been introverted and nerdy, which felt isolating when I was in high school,” explains Bailey. “But knowing I got to come to the Aquarium on the weekend and share my interests with so many like-minded individuals gave me a lot of confidence.” Bailey was a 15-year-old junior when she became a Youth Ocean Advocate, after years of visiting the Aquarium and knowing from a young age she wanted to work with animals.

While she lists personal growth as her top gain from volunteering, Bailey also developed close friendships with teens from other schools—people she wouldn’t have met otherwise—and she still cherishes many of those friendships today. What’s more, finding her passion in advocating for marine life came through the YOA program. “Being able to teach guests about the marine environment and to watch kids’ faces light up as they shared the same fascination I felt for these creatures was very fulfilling,” she says.

In her final volunteer session, Bailey was given the Youth Ocean Advocate of the Year award, and soon she set her sights on transferring to the University of Washington (UW) to pursue a degree in aquatic and fishery sciences.

Interning with the Aquarium’s Cold-Water Fish and Invertebrate team

At UW, Bailey was able to help with daily husbandry tasks in a research lab and gain more in-depth knowledge about marine life through her studies. When she found herself missing the Aquarium, she applied for and was accepted to one of our internship programs. “For my project, I was in charge of taking inventory for all of the invertebrates in the cold-water exhibits—which I took to calling ‘invert-ory’ because I’m all about the puns,” she says.

In this photo from her internship days, Bailey washes the gravel in one of our tide pool habitats—"still one of my very favorite husbandry tasks," she says. 

“The amount I gained from my internship was astronomical,” she continues. “It was easily the best experience of my life thus far. I discovered a love for animal husbandry and I developed an immense understanding of animal care.” Along with the skills she was developing, Bailey once again treasured the connections she made with others at the Aquarium.

Officially on board as Operations/Life Sciences relief

In late 2018, Bailey’s internship ended. The following spring, she began filling in at the Aquarium on the weekends until she finished the school quarter, when she then transitioned to full time at the Aquarium until fall quarter 2019 began. After a short stint as a temporary employee during the holidays that year, Bailey was offered a permanent part-time position as relief for the Operations and Life Sciences teams in January 2020.

Bailey enjoying some time with harbor seal Hogan during her era as a temporary employee.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work right out of college in a job that excites and challenges me,” she says. “Through my studies and firsthand experience, I see the direct effects of climate change and the indifference of others to what is happening in our marine environment, and sometimes it can feel very defeating.”

In response to that indifference, though, Bailey strives to find innovative ways to reduce her own carbon footprint and become an even bigger advocate for the Seattle Aquarium and other conservation organizations that are working to protect our marine environment.

Combining individual strengths to collectively help marine habitats

There are many ways we as individuals can help our one world ocean. For her part, Bailey says, “I understand that not everyone finds fish and invertebrates as adorable and charismatic as I do, but through talking about my work and working as hard as I can, I believe I am inspiring others to make a difference.” You can get to know more volunteers who’ve been moved to action on behalf of the marine environment by checking out the Aquarium’s 2019 annual report.

Bailey helps sea otter Adaa ring in 2021 with a special enrichment treat.

If you or someone you know is a high school student and feels inspired to volunteer, check out our Youth Ocean Advocates program. Adults can also find volunteer opportunities on our website. We hope to begin new-volunteer trainings again in spring of 2021.

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