Launched in 2020, the Aquarium’s Empathy Fellowship program is designed to create pathways into careers in aquariums, zoos and the conservation field for communities of color and other marginalized communities that bear the brunt of environmental harm and historically haven’t reaped the benefits of the solutions proposed.
Throughout their one-year terms, individuals hired for these full-time, paid, fully benefited positions have opportunities to learn about local marine life and conservation efforts, develop personal and professional goals, and become effective educators, facilitators and advocates for marine conservation, empathy and their communities.
We recently welcomed the program’s third cohort: Lauren Canto, Maddy Laoprasert, Zoe Ruggiero-Diehl and Cave T.
“When I came across this fellowship, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to combine my two passions: diversity, equity and inclusion, and marine science.”
As a child growing up in Seattle, Lauren Canto spent hours on the beach looking at tide pools, captivated by the plants and animals within. Her passion for conservation continued throughout college and she graduated with a B.S. in ecology and conservation biology, with a minor in wildlife resources, in 2022.
“During my time at university, I struggled with my identity and had to work hard to find a place where I fit in,” she comments. “I ended up joining the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Club and the UNITY multicultural executive board, where I dove deeper into my passion for social justice and had the privilege to learn from others’ perspectives.” She continues, “Throughout this fellowship, I’m hoping to create a welcoming space for all people and inspire others from diverse backgrounds to become change-makers in this field!”
“What excites me most about this fellowship is the opportunity to meaningfully connect with diverse communities by sharing space and striving for mutual understanding.”
A childhood spent exploring the mountains, forests and prairies of Colorado sparked Maddy Laoprasert’s love for the environment. Meanwhile, growing up in a Thai household within a predominantly white area, she—along with and her family—often faced prejudice and marginalization. These experiences continue to motivate her to advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for herself and others in her communities.
“The Empathy Fellowship combines several of my passions: environmental conservation, informal education, community-building and social justice—through an empathy lens,” she notes, adding, “I’m grateful that the fellowship allows us to center and amplify our own communities’ voices within this field.”
“I want to learn about the ways in which I can uplift and empower the local LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans people.”
Zoe Ruggiero-Diehl previously worked with the Aquarium as a marine science instructor and was inspired to apply for the Empathy Fellowship program because of the opportunity to apply their degree in secondary science education and incorporate their passion for social justice.
“I believe that social equity and environmental justice are in many ways one and the same,” Zoe comments. “The fellowship will allow me to combine these passions by developing programming that incorporates empathy, cultural responsiveness and social-emotional learning.” They add, “It will also give me an opportunity to work with my own community. I hope I can engage my community by encouraging curiosity about marine science and the connections we have with the natural world.”
“I’m thrilled to merge my many passions—including conservation, education, community-building, and gender and racial justice in my position as an empathy fellow.”
Cave T. grew up in the Pacific Northwest and became interested in marine conservation and education through experiencing firsthand the disproportionate impacts of environmental issues in their communities.
“I have a non-traditional background, opting out of pursuing higher education,” they comment. “I believe there is much knowledge and wisdom to gain from the world around us.” Cave’s many interests include music, cooking, creating art and organizing within their community. “Without their love and support, I wouldn’t be here,” they say. “La lucha sigue!”
(English: “The struggle continues!”)