Community Engagement Fellow: Hayden Sloan
Looking back on my life, it seems obvious that I should be working toward a career in ocean conservation. I was desperate to be a mermaid, enchanted by aquariums, and regularly called a fish every time my family took trips to the pool, the lake, or the beach. I took a rather round-about way to get into the conservation field, though.
When I was starting undergrad, I went through at least a dozen different options for career paths. I thought I wanted to be a metallurgical engineer, a musical theatre actress, an underwater welder, an artist, a photographer, an author, a linguist—so many things, but it never crossed my mind to pursue work with plants, animals, or the natural environment, even though I grew up with the woods of Alabama in my heart.
vI ended up with an undergraduate degree in photography and international relations, with a minor in Spanish, and promptly moved to China to teach English. Those years were quite an adventure. During the three years I spent in China, I became increasingly interested in environmental issues, as one might imagine. With the smog in Beĳing and the polluted waters of Shenzhen Bay, I started reading up on environmental degradation and government policies. But it wasn’t until I visited Japan that I realized what I wanted to focus on in my future career. We went to the grand aquarium in Osaka and, unbeknownst to me in the moment, my face lit up like nothing else we had seen on the trip. “Why don’t you study something to do with the ocean?” So I began.
I applied for a single graduate school program and thankfully, was accepted. It was a dual-degree program through American University and the University for Peace in Costa Rica for natural resources management and sustainable development. I loved my program, got amazing international experience, and boosted my Spanish ﬂuency. ¡Que bueno!
Since starting graduate school, I’ve jumped in to the conservation world with both feet. I got my toes wet with a job at the National Zoo, and focused my research papers, where I could, on ocean and water issues. As I studied, I realized the connections between land and water conservation, and that nothing is really separated. While I consider myself an oceans person at heart, I am here for the Earth, ready to talk about energy, climate change, forestry, social engagement, policy , or health—any aspect of conservation, really!
In Costa Rica, I worked on sea turtle conservation with a remote wildlife refuge situated along a gorgeous stretch of beach on the Nicoya Peninsula. Gorgeous that is, until tonnes of plastic washed ashore. I then spent nights monitoring sea turtles and days collecting, counting and cataloguing trash as my own personal research project. In my last weeks there, I organized a community beach cleanup to bring in folks from nearby Montezuma and Cóbano, raise awareness, and hopefully start an annual trend. Three solid months of off-grid living and trekking to various communities for outreach was a true test of my dedication to this career path, and I have to say, it paid off.
Another year of graduate school, student council, and internships has brought me here, to the SCA, where I get to work with a great team to plan volunteer events and get communities involved in the conversation about conservation.
The project that I’ve specifically been brought on for, along with the three other Community Engagement Fellows, is thanks to a new partnership between the SCA and Nestlé. This month, we are working on events across ten US cities for #NestléCares, a national day of volunteering across Nestlé’s 120 U.S. hometowns on August 10th. We’re helping Nestlé accomplish a range of projects in the communities where their oﬃces are located, so that employees can have an opportunity to give back. We’ll be doing park beautification, invasive species removal, coastal cleanups, and more. Some of these events will be open to the public, so keep an eye out for event invites!
Until then, I am proud, honored, and beyond excited to say that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing, thanks to the SCA: spreading the word about environmental issues and sharing in conservation efforts with citizens, government, and businesses to make our world a little bit better, one event at a time.